Herbal and natural supplements are part of a collection of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) which are regarded as health and wellness therapies that have typically not been part of conventional Western medicine. Sales of vitamins and supplements are more than $36 billion per year.
Although herbal/natural supplements are popular, there are quality concerns that should be considered such as the lack of standardized or uniform preparations, packaging overstatement or misstatements about the supplement’s benefits, no side effect disclosures, and a general difficulty in knowing how they will interact with prescribed medications. The good news is there are some government regulations in place to limit contaminants.
Here are a few natural supplements that have been shown in studies to possibly have positive effects on some rheumatic diseases. Please keep in mind that supplements and CAMs are not meant to replace needed traditional medication prescribed by your rheumatologist.
Curcumin (turmeric) is a natural pigment derived from turmeric root (Curcuma longa) and is a common component of curry powder for cooking Indian, Thai, and Caribbean foods. Studies have shown that curcumin blocks inflammation pathways and has anti-arthritic and cancer prevention benefits. The recommended dose is 1500mg – 2000mg per day. Studies suggest the arthritis joint pain relief is equivalent to Ibuprofen 1200mg per day.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids (FA) are unsaturated fatty acids occurring chiefly in fish oils. They are anti-arthritic, reduce heart disease, and are helpful in neurodegeneration and depression. Fish oil and flaxseed oil are both dietary sources of EPA and DHA type of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. The recommended dose is 1500mg – 5000mg per day (combined amount of EPA + DHA).
Green tea has been shown to treat arthritis pain and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. The active component, catechins, offers joint protection and reduces arthritis pain. The recommended amount is three to four cups a day, or 300 – 400mg of green tea extract per day.
Polypodium leucotomos is a fern native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. Extracts of this fern are protective against sunburn and sun-sensitive rashes, such as lupus. The recommended dose is 240mg per day. It can take several months to see any effects.
These are just a few that have been studied and seem to help with some rheumatic diseases.
When starting any new supplements, start one at a time to see maximum benefit. Additionally, it is important to discuss all supplements with your physician.
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Suleman Bhana, MD is a practicing rheumatologist at Crystal Run Healthcare in Hudson Valley area of New York. He is currently serving as the chair of the American College of Rheumatology’s Communications and Marketing Committee.
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