Alternative Therapies Offer Arthritis Pain Relief

PHOTO: Complementary Therapies Offer Effective Arthritis Pain Management
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An estimated 50 million Americans are living with arthritis, and while the pain, stiffness and joint deformities that often go along with it can be debilitating, medical experts say there are treatments that can bring relief to help sufferers live full and productive lives.

There are more than 100 different forms of arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. The most common types are osteoarthritis, caused by "wear and tear" on joints, and rheumatoid arthritis, caused when the body attacks its own tissues, leading to inflammation of the joints.

Along with commonly prescribed painkillers, surgeries and other medical interventions, there are also a number of complementary approaches specialists use that they say can decrease inflammation, reduce pain and promote overall health.

ABC News asked doctors who practice integrative medicine, a field focused on blending conventional medicine with complementary treatments, to weigh in on what options they recommend for arthritis.

A few of the approaches they discuss on the following pages work for several types of arthritis because they target inflammation, a characteristic some forms of the condition have in common. Other approaches are more targeted. But no matter what the approach, experts stress before beginning any therapy, people should consult their doctors because not every option is appropriate for everyone with arthritis.

Dietary Ingredients

"Certain anti-inflammatory ingredients can be incorporated into the diet, such as tumeric and ginger," said Dr. Ashwin Mehta, medical director of integrative medicine at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. "Ginger and tumeric are powerful anti-inflammatory ingredients we can recommend pretty much to anybody. They are very safe and have no potential medication interactions or complications."

There have been few clinical trials looking at the effectiveness of ginger and tumeric on inflammation, but there are some laboratory data that suggest both can be helpful.

"Studies have been done on ginger and tumeric and have shown some anti-inflammatory effects, so there is at least some basic science to suggest these might be helpful," said Dr. Joanne Jordan, director of the Thurston Arthritis Research Center at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill.

Other food additives are considered to have anti-inflammatory properties, such as garlic, cinnamon and soy.

But while he recommends ginger and tumeric to anyone with arthritis, Mehta said before incorporating others into the diet, people should consult a physician, because certain ingredients may work better with certain symptoms. Others, he added, may interact with certain medications.

Cutting back on refined sugars can also reduce inflammation, Mehta added. That dietary tip will help with all types of arthritis.

In some people, foods that cause allergic reactions may be foods that support inflammation, so arthritics with any sensitivity to foods should avoid those foods.

Another ingredient doctors recommend is capsaicin, found in very hot peppers. It's often used in topical ointments or creams made specially for pain relief.

"It's helpful for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis when it's used as a topical remedy, although some people do eat it in the form of red, hot chili peppers," said Dr. Lawrence Taw, clinical professor at UCLA's Center for East-West Medicine. "It tends to help arthritis that is worse when it's cold, windy and damp."

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