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‘Arthritis’ is a catch-all term covering chronic and progressive problems that can occur in joints. Arthritis is generally divided into two forms: ‘rheumatoid’ arthritis (RA) which may affect the cartilaginous structures in joints that give them their flexibility, and ‘osteoarthritis’ which involves the bone in joints. A third form of painful sudden joint inflammation, usually in the feet or hands, is gout, but this condition arises from a different cause entirely. 

RA may lead to osteoarthritis when cartilaginous structures fail, but the latter may also result from the inability (usually with age) to repair normal ‘wear and tear’ of joints.

Arthritis of the hands

Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA appears to be primarily an auto-immune disease which causes degradation of the cartilaginous parts of a joint, and may also cause inflammation of spinal discs or muscle tendons. It can even damage tear glands, salivary glands, the lining of the heart and lungs, and blood vessels. Rheumatoid arthritis appears to be one of the many autoimmune conditions, in which the body's defenses attack its own tissues. There may be a viral or other external triggers or causes, but this has yet to be established (see below).

Women are around twice as likely to contract rheumatoid arthritis as men. This may be due to the effects of the hormone oestrogen but this has not been conclusively proven. RA tends to affect both sides of the body evenly, and is progressive, often spreading to other joints quite rapidly. It is a serious condition which must be addressed as appropriate.

Sypmptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis tend to develop gradually, with the first symptoms often being felt in small joints such as the thumbs, fingers and toes. Unlike minor joint pain caused by strain or injury, it tends overall to get progressively worse rather than better.

Symptoms include joint pain, stiffness and swelling of joints, sometimes accompanied by noticeable local redness and warmth associated with the inflammation. Many RA sufferers also become anaemic, leading to loss of appetite and a general feeling of being unwell.  In around 25% of cases, small painless lumps may appear under the skin. These are known as rheumatoid nodules, and commonly occur on the skin of the elbows and forearms.

These symptoms often tend to come and go, especially in the early stages, resulting in so-called 'flare ups' which gradually subside. A flare-up can occur at any time, but symptoms tend to be more acute upon waking, and often will reduce in intensity as you start using and flexing your joints. Spending time in cold conditions can also seriously aggravate symptoms.

Treatment of  rheumatoid arthritis

Autoimmune diseases are among the most difficult to treat effectively, primarily because the causes are not known for certain. Diet may be a factor, and the finger of suspicion points to some extent at intake of hydrogenated oils and fats, and a lack of omega 3 oils in the diet as possible contributory agents.

There may also possibly be a viral origin, but again this is speculation. An antibody known as the rheumatoid factor is present in around 80% of people with RA, and this is indicative of the presence of an infective agent. Of course, this leaves about 20% of sufferers who do not have the antibody, although this could simply indicate a genetic inability to respond to the particular virus involved. The same antibody is also found in about 5% of people without any symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and this may be taken as either the residue of a successful defence against infection, or indication that the antibody is associated with RA but not related to the primary cause.

In the absence of  conclusive proof, the best response would appear to be to use an immunomodulator to try to ‘tame’ the immune system without compromising its normal functions, and to take steps to try to help joints repair themselves.

Conventional medical treatment may involve prescriptions of hydroxychloroquine, or Plaquenil, and corticosteroids. These drugs interfere with vitamin D absorbtion and your doctor should co-prescribe vitamin D to compensate for this.

Natural supplements that may help

Omega-3 EFAs

The omega-3 fatty acids GLA and EPA have been found useful in the mitigation of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. These are most easily obtained from borage oil (GLA) and fish oils (EPA).

Start with 6 to 10 grams of fish oil per day, but ensure that this is ‘molecularly distilled’ and does not contain enhanced levels of vitamins D and E, otherwise you would be in danger of accumulating excessive amounts of these vitamins in your body. Although some studies indicate that GLA (borage oil) is more effective than EPA (fish oil) in managing arthritic inflammation and pain, there is some doubt about the longer term efficacy of supplementing with omega-6 and you should therefore probably try omega-3 supplementation first.

If you wish to try supplementing with borage oil, minimise your intake of other vegetable oils and/or supplement with fish oils simultaneously. These measures will help to maintain the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6, an important consideration for overall health. The first positive effects can generally be seen after one month of supplementation, and improvement may continue for 12 months or more.


Celadrin ('Celaritis') is the trade name for a mixture of cetylated fatty acids (CFAs) structurally similar to 'omega 3' oils. CFAs are saturated fats commonly extracted from bovine tallow oil and are increasingly used to reduce pain and swelling in arthritic joints. The active constituents include myristic acid and oleic acid which are both produced naturally in the body. Oleic acid is an 'omega 9' oil also found in olive oil and in most meats and oily seeds. Myristic acid is found in full fat milk, butter and some vegetable oils such as palm oil and coconut oil. It is believed that as we age the natural production of these key nutrients can decrease, and supplementing with these oils can have significant benefits for arthritis sufferers.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that CFA preparations can be more effective than the well-established use of chondroitin and glucosamine (see below), although a number of sufferers have reported that using CFA in combination with C/G can provide even better relief from arthritic symptoms. Topical application of creams containing CFAs, which bypasses potential destruction of the oils by digestive enzymes, also appears to be effective.

Chondoitin and glucosamine

Chondroitin can draw fluid into the cartilage, improving shock-absorbing ability and weight control, as more weight equals more joint pressure. Recent studies have also shown that glucosamine is effective for the long-term relief of arthritis pain. In some people, glucosamine appears to even slow the deterioration of joints over time and to reinforce joint cartilage. Whether or not it can actually reverse the disease is still unclear. In some instances, glucosamine can be used in conjunction with MSM, a sulphur-bearing substance that appears to slow down the degeneration but is not yet proven and approved. MSM occurs naturally in the body and is believed to assist the transfer of large molecules across cell membranes. It also provides a source of the sulphur required for the synthesis of some amino acids in the body.



Osteoarthritis (OA), often of hands, knees, hips, feet or spine, is the most common type of arthritis. The risk of developing the condition increases with age, and while it may develop in middle age it is most common among those over the age of 65.

While osteoarthritis may develop as a result of damage to cartilage caused by rheumatoid arthritis, it is most commonly associated with aging, and sometimes with joint trauma such as sports injuries. OA of hip /leg joints and the spine may be aggravated by obesity, due to the considerable additional loads imposed on cartilages (mechanical overload).

The symptoms of OA are generally as for RA, but entirely restricted to joints. The affected joint becomes difficult to move or use, and may give way suddenly in the case of knee joints, due to failure of the hinge joint to lock properly when the leg is straightened. In addition to pain or swelling, an affected joint may produce 'creaking' or 'cracking' sounds when flexed, and in the longer term may become enlarged or deformed.

Damage to the cartilage of joints allows bony parts of the joint to come into direct contact, causing wear damage which is initially superficial. However, as the body tries to repair the bone it can thicken or become mishapen, further aggravating the damage. The bone at the edges of the joint can sometimes begin to grow outwards forming bony spurs, or 'osteophytes', which may sometimes separate from the main bone entirely (‘Heberden's nodes’).

The membrane surrounding the joint can also become inflamed, causing increased pain, swelling and stiffness. This is especially common in large load-bearing joints such as the knees and hips. In severe OA, chalky deposits of calcium crystals form in the cartilage (calcification), and this will also cause the skin over the joint to become reddish, hot, and swollen (pseudo gout).

Treatment of  osteoarthritis

Conventional treatment of osteoarthritis normally involves the prescription of paracetamol or ibuprofen to help to relieve pain and stiffness. Paracetamol is an effective painkiller, and has some anti-inflammatory effects. It is relatively free of side effect but does place some strain on the liver, especially if taken long-term. A liver aid such as milk thistle may be helpful while taking paracetamol.

Ibuprofen is also a pain killer but has stronger antiinflammatory properties than paracetamol. It is classed as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Ibuprofen tends to have more side effects that paracetamol, including indigestion, diarrhoea, and bleeding from the stomach (comparable with aspirin). Ibuprofen should be taken with nettle leaf extract, as this enhances the anti-inflammatory effect considerably (Ibuprofen dosages may be reduced by up to 70% without reduction of effect).

Because of such side effects, Ibuprofen is generally unsuited for long term ingestion, and a NSAID cream or gel is safer as it is applied topically (although some will still enter the bloodstream).

Omega 3 EFAs, chondroitin, glucosamine and MSM are all helpful for repairing cartilage as described for RA. If an individual is obese or overweight and has OA in load-bearing joints, losing weight would obviously be helpful.

Other things to try

Other nutritional supplements may be useful in the treatment of osteoartritis. These include niacinamide (vitamin B3), S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe), green-lipped mussel, and vitamin E. Vitamin B is also an effective pain reliever. It works best on the knee joint and can help stop further degeneration that is caused by free-radical molecules.

Regular injections of hyaluronic acid directly into a joint is a relatively new treatment. The exact way it may help is not clear, but it seems most likely that It may stimulate growth of new cartilage. Further research is needed to clarify the role of this treatment. Currently it is sometimes used when symptoms are severe, particularly in the knee.

Herbs that may also be effective include oral cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) and devil’s claw (Harpogophytum procumbens) or a topical application of cayenne pepper (Capsicum frutescens). Ginger root contains an antioxidant called gingivol that acts as an inflammatory with no major side effects. A highly purified extract of ginger has been shown to reduce knee pain in patients with arthritis in a US study.

Magnets – Although wearers of powerful magnets, usually as bracelets or leg bands, frequently claim that these are very helpful, the evidence is largely anecdotal. However there is good scientific evidence that magnetic ‘treatment’ of fuels increases burn efficiency, and some evidence that haemoglobin in blood that has been exposed to high intensity magnetic fields is able to transfer oxygen or carbon dioxide with increased efficiency, so the claims may not be without justification.  


Some credible-seeming claims are made for an immunomodulator compound called CMO™ (cerasomal-cis-9-cetylmyristoleate), which was developed at the San Diego International Immunological Center, directed by Dr. Len Sands. It is claimed that CMO is the only immunomodulator available today that can correct the memory T/cells (which cause most of the secondary and ongoing damage in autoimmune conditions). It is a naturally derived substance (naturally associated Bovine fatty acids) that has been certified as safe for human use following LD-50 testing.

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Recommended Products

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