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There are more than hundred different 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 joints related conditions (Arthritis Foundation)
The risk factors associated with joint health includes 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 the age of 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, pain killers, 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. In the absence of a lasting cure for this ailment, people often consider using for relief natural products based supplements.
The Arthritis Foundation has recommended a number of 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 breakdown of cartilage and reduced 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 affecting 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 is 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 derived from animal and vegetable sources.||Reduces pain and inflammation, improves joint function and slows 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 in the body by the adrenal glands||DHEA helps regulate the immune system and control inflammation.
|Multiple studies in support of this claim|
· Dimethyl sulphide derived from wood pulp processing
· Fish oil
· Flaxseed oil
· Green lipped mussel
· Gingko biloba
|Supplements made from these products are anti inflammatory, improve immune system etc||Multiple studies support these claims|
Source: Derived from Arthritis Foundation information– www.arthritis.org
Despite the existence of a fairly substantial body of scientific literature supporting 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. There is a prevalent view that such supplements are free of all side effects. But scientists have found that many of these supplements like those that contain white willow bark, ginger, garlic and others could result in enhanced bleeding etc. (Maroon J C et al, 2010).
The natural supplements industry is leveraging healing capabilities of natural products. It has succeeded in creating formulations that contain active molecules bioavailable in concentrated form. Concentration and bioavailability of active molecules are two main challenges observed in raw natural ingredients.
While 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 biologic drugs that inhibit TNF (Tumor necrosis factor). TNF is a protein produced by the body and is responsible for causing joint inflammation. The earliest in this class of TNF inhibiting drugs was Etanercept that 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 along with 3 D bioprinters have been used to artificially fabricate bone and tissue. (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 clearly 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.
The objective of both these segments 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 the worlds?