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There are more than a hundred types of arthritis and joints related conditions. In these cases, joints become stiff, inflamed, and painful, leading decrease in mobility. These can affect not just older people but also children. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity make people more prone to such ailments. Women are more prone to joint-related conditions (Arthritis Foundation)
The risk factors associated with joint health include excess body weight, genetic factors, age, injuries, high levels of uric acid, infections from viruses, and other bone-affecting organisms. World Health Organization estimates that 9.6 percent of men and eighteen percent of women over sixty years have symptomatic osteoarthritis (Degenerative joint disease). Arthritis is one of the ten most disabling diseases in developed countries.
Physicians recommend exercise, physical activity, painkillers, massages of affected parts with various oils and salts like Epsom salt, and in extreme cases, surgery to provide relief to patients with affected joints. Without a lasting cure for this ailment, people often consider using natural relief products-based supplements.
The Arthritis Foundation has recommended several herbal and natural products based supplements as aids to treating affected joints. Here is the summary of these recommendations:
|Natural Products||Claim||Scientific support|
|Avocado and soybean oil (ASU) combination||Slows the progression of osteoarthritis (OA).||Studies published in the Journal of Rheumatology in 2003, 2008, and 2013 editions. ASU was seen to help inhibit the breakdown of cartilage and reduce the need for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).|
|Gamma-Linolenic acid – A type of omega-6 fatty acid found in evening primrose oil, black currant oil, and borage oil||Lessens joint pain, stiffness, and swelling associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).||Multiple studies support the claim|
|Indian Frankincense – Boswellia serrata gum||Reduces inflammation and treats rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis (OA)||A 2004 and 2008 study showed reduced knee inflammation and pain.|
|Bromelain – a group of enzymes extracted from pineapple – Ananas comosus||Reduced inflammation and pain||A 2005 study showed that bromelain-activated immune cells that fight infection affect joints.|
|Capsaicin – a heat-producing component extracted from chili peppers – Capsicum frutescens.||Reduces inflammation and pain when applied as a topical cream or gel.||Multiple studies support this claim.|
|Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa vine bark and root are used.
|Reduces inflammation and stimulates the immune system||A 2002 Journal of Rheumatology double-blind study found this helpful in treating Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)|
|Chondroitin and glucosamine compounds are derived from animal and vegetable sources.||Reduces pain and inflammation, improve joint function, and slows the progression of osteoarthritis.||Multiple large trials support these claims|
|Turmeric molecule curcumin||Anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving||Multiple studies and trials|
|Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is an androgen steroid hormone naturally produced by the adrenal glands.||DHEA helps regulate the immune system and control inflammation.
|Multiple studies support this claim|
· Dimethyl sulfide derived from wood pulp processing
· Fish oil
· Flaxseed oil
· Green-lipped mussel
· Gingko biloba
|Supplements made from these products are anti-inflammatory, improve the immune system, etc||Multiple studies support these claims.|
Source: Derived from Arthritis Foundation information– www.arthritis.org
Despite a substantial body of scientific literature supporting the use of natural products-based supplements for joint health-related ailments, these products continue to be authorized for sale in the US only as nutraceuticals. The prevalent view is that such supplements are free of all side effects. But scientists have found that many of these supplements, like those containing white willow bark, ginger, garlic, and others, could result in enhanced bleeding (Maroon J C et al., 2010).
The natural supplements industry is leveraging the healing capabilities of natural products. It has successfully created formulations containing active molecules bioavailable in concentrated form. Concentration and bioavailability of active molecules are two main challenges observed in raw natural ingredients.
While the natural products-based industry is trying to do its bit for joint health, medical science is taking another path. Genomics-based techniques have been deployed to create biological drugs that inhibit TNF (Tumor necrosis factor). TNF is a protein produced by the body responsible for causing joint inflammation. The earliest in this class of TNF-inhibiting drugs was Etanercept which was approved in 1998. (http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/drugs/etanercept.aspx) Since then, eight more drugs have been developed. These drugs are said to be effective in treating RA patients.
Biofabrication and 3-D bioprinters have been used to fabricate bone and tissue artificially. (Boere, Kristel W. M.; Blokzijl, Maarten M.; Visser, Jetze; Linssen, J. Elder A.; Malda, J; Hennink, Wim E.; Vermonden, Tina (2015) Journal of materials chemistry b, volume 3, issue 46, pp. 9067 – 9078 ) These parts have been successfully surgically implanted in a living body in case of animals.
Science has gone beyond anti-inflammatory, pain abatement medicine, and even surgical interventions and is breaching new frontiers. But I do not see any synergy between the efforts of natural products-based supplement manufacturers and biotechnologists, geneticists, and drug manufacturers.
Both segments’ objective is the same – to provide solutions to joint health ailments. Why can’t they collaborate and work together and give us the best of both worlds?