"Why shoot a mouse with an elephant gun?” It’s a good question to ask those suffering from osteoarthritis (the wear-and-tear type of arthritis). Why is it that so many of these people have never been advised to try natural approaches before using strong drugs which can cause major side effects and complications?

Vitamin C

This vitamin is the most overlooked natural remedy in treating aging joints. Vitamin C is needed to produce healthy collagen, a vital component of cartilage. Deteriorated cartilage leads to bones grinding against one another causing pain. Researchers at Boston University Medical Center studied the vitamin C intake of 640 people. They discovered that those with a higher intake of vitamin C were protected against progression of osteoarthritis of the knee and slowed development of knee pain.

Remember, animals make vitamin C and humans do not. Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel prize winner, knew that humans receive more than enough C in the food they eat to prevent scurvy. But diet alone does not offer near enough vitamin C to prevent arthritis and coronary attack. Pauling took 20,000 milligrams (mg) daily. The recommended daily dose is 75 mg. If you decide to take high doses of vitamin C, you might experience diarrhea, in which case dial back the dosage. But your cardiovascular system and aging joints will thank you for a generous daily supply.

Exercise

If you don’t use your joints, you lose them. Exercise gets the heart going, and this is the pumping mechanism that pushes vitamin C and other nutrients into joints to nourish cartilage. It is under-use and poor maintenance, not just over-use, that causes so many people need hip and knee replacements.

Diet

A sound diet is powerful therapy for any condition and arthritis is no exception. Studies show that a mostly vegetarian diet has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect in improving joint pain. Patients with arthritis should concentrate on complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits. Fish oils contain omega-3 essential fatty acids, high in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which have been shown to reduce morning stiffness and swollen joints in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease. They help ease arthritis pain by decreasing the production of prostaglandins, molecules made at sites of tissue damage or infection that control processes such as inflammation, which in turn causes pain. Take supplements if you are not getting enough fish oil in your daily diet.

Boswellia

Turn to herbal extracts used for centuries in Asia and Africa to treat pain. Boswellia, also known as Indian frankincense, is obtained from the Boswellia serrata tree. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory compound that in recent years has been attracting significant attention. Boswellia has undergone human trials for knee pain and can be used in the prevention and treatment of diverse chronic diseases. It is devoid of toxicities. Look in natural health food stores for Casperome®, a new form of Boswellia better absorbed by the body. Faster absorption also means faster pain relief.

Natural approaches to treating arthritis are safe and effective. But in North America every year, 26,000 people die from gastrointestinal bleeding due to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Aspirin, Tylenol, Advil (ibuprofen) Naproxen and others. Casperome® has been used safely and effectively together with NSAIDs, helping patients reduce the amount of NSAIDs needed to block pain.

Natural remedies can also have side-effects. After all it was hemlock that killed Socrates! But pound for pound, they are much safer than prescription drugs and it is logical to try them first.

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones, aka Ken Walker, is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Harvard Medical School. You can reach him online at his website, docgiff.com, or via email at info@ docgiff.com.

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