Gift from the Sea: Help for Arthritis Pain

Healthnotes Newswire (April 2, 2009)—According to a study in Nutrition Journal, a seaweed extract (Aquamin™) could improve osteoarthritis symptoms and lessen the need for pain meds.

“Aquamin cannot entirely replace pain-relieving nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as a treatment for osteoarthritis. However, it may allow for a reduced need for NSAIDs which may have substantial health benefits including a reduction in many of the adverse side effects of NSAIDs,” say the study’s authors.

Osteoarthritis—also known as degenerative joint disease—causes pain most commonly in joints of the spine, fingers, knees, and hips and can interfere with daily activities. As the cushioning cartilage of the joints breaks down, spurs can form and bits of cartilage may break off and “catch” within the joint. Arthritis makes it difficult to move a joint through its full range of motion, and activities that might have once gone quickly take much longer as stiffness sets into the affected joints.

Slippery joint aid

Certain minerals are known to affect joint health, among them calcium, magnesium, manganese, selenium, copper, and zinc. The extract used in this study—a multi-mineral supplement derived from red algae (Lithothamnion corallioides)—is particularly rich in calcium and magnesium, along with over 70 other trace minerals. The new study was done to see if Aquamin could alleviate arthritis symptoms and possibly reduce the need for NSAIDs.

Participants were 20 people between 35 and 75 years old who were taking NSAIDs for moderate to severe osteoarthritis of the knee. For 12 weeks, 6 were given three capsules of the seaweed extract three times per day; the remaining 14 were given a placebo. After two weeks, they were asked to reduce their NSAID use by 50% and then to eliminate it after another two weeks.

While there were no differences between the groups in terms of pain and stiffness, people taking Aquamin were able to walk significantly further in a six-minute walking test and had better range of motion after decreasing their NSAID use by 50% than people in the placebo group. No serious side effects were associated with the seaweed extract.

Away with osteoarthritis

If you’re one of the millions of people suffering from osteoarthritis pain, try these tips:

Add some exercise: Even though it may be uncomfortable, gentle physical activity can help keep joints flexible and decrease pain. Tai chi and yoga have both been shown to help increase range of motion and improve feelings of well-being in seniors.

Experiment with food: Some people’s osteoarthritis pain is worsened when they eat foods from the nightshade plant family: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes; avoid these foods for four weeks to see if it helps.

Eat your antioxidants: Get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and eat fish a couple times a week to help keep inflammation at bay.

Talk to your doc about supplement options: Chondroitin-glucosamine combinations, niacinamide, cat’s claw, ginger, and SAMe have all shown benefit.

Try some seaweed extract: More studies will have to confirm the benefit, but even a small reduction in pain meds can make a big difference when it comes to stomach upset and other unwanted NSAID side effects.

(Nutrition Journal 2009;doi:10.1186/1475-2891-8-7)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, and now sees patients in East Greenwich and Wakefield. Inspired by her passion for healthful eating and her own young daughters, Dr. Beauchamp is currently writing a book about optimizing children’s health through better nutrition.

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