My father has osteoarthritis in both knees and is looking for nutritional or other alternatives to the pain medications whose side effects alter his personality. He has even had trouble with Aleve. We have heard of shark cartilage, borage oil, germanium, glucosamine and bee stings as all being potentially beneficial. Any comments on these and others would be greatly appreciated.
Also, are there any foods that should be avoided? Rumors on this subject are vast.
As you have found, there are quite a few nutritional treatments for osteoarthritis, including those you mentioned.
In treating osteoarthritis, we want to reduce the pain and inflammation. We also want to slow its progression. This latter goal is probably the most important, but also the most difficult to measure in an individual. There is preliminary evidence that antioxidants, especially vitamins C and E, may help to slow the progression of the disease. Vitamin E has actually been proven to reduce osteoarthritic pain, probably by the same mechanism as the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Glucosamine sulfate is probably the best proven nutritional treatment for osteoarthritis. It is usually given at a dosage of 500 milligrams three times daily. It tends to work slowly – most people don’t see results before about two months. The use of shark cartilage is not well proven, though many people with osteoarthritis claim it has helped them. It seems to be most effective when taken 15 to 30 minutes after each meal. The total daily dosage is one gram of dry powder for each 15 pounds of body weight. (The dry powder can be mixed with nonacidic fruit juice or nectar in a ratio of two ounces of juice for every gram of powder.) One month is adequate for a trial.
Borage oil is a source of GLA, an omega-6 essential fatty acid that plays an important role in the diet whether you have arthritis or not; but there is no good evidence that it’s helpful in treating osteoarthritis. Germanium is similarly unproven.
As to bee stings, bee venom apparently has an anti-inflammatory effect, but more research has to be done before I would recommend this form of treatment. Those who’d like more information about this unusual therapy can contact the American Apitherapy Society, Inc, PO Box 74, North Hartland, VT 05052.
My book, Healing Through Nutrition, devotes a chapter to summarizing the various nutritional treatments for osteoarthritis in nonclinical language. If you’re feeling ambitious and would like to wade through some of the medical literature on nutrition and osteoarthritis, my book Nutritional Influences on Illness contains a number of citations that will help you track down the articles that interest you.