Alternative Arthritis Treatments?

Q.My brother-in-law has bad arthritis. With all the medications he has taken over the years, the deterioration of the bones and cartilage is very extensive. We have been trying to figure out what he can do to rebuild what he has been losing. We have tried weightlifting powders, and recently I heard of something called Nutrajoint. Are things like this good?

Jimmy

A.From a patient’s standpoint, I understand the desire to try alternative forms of treatment. Unfortunately, many of these are quite costly, are of questionable benefit and can occasionally cause harm. In a patient such as your brother-in-law, who has suffered so much destruction of the joints, it is unlikely that any of these alternative forms of treatment are going to rebuild the cartilage or give significant relief.

A.I once had a patient who developed severe arthritis of the hip while she was in her 50s. After evaluating her, I recommended hip replacement. Instead, she sought out various forms of alternative arthritis treatment, including herbal remedies, acupuncture and psychotherapy. She even went to Mexico for special treatments. She spent over a year trying different things and, unfortunately, got no relief. When she finally had her hip replacement, she couldn’t believe the amount of relief that she experienced. Afterwards, she was upset at herself for having “wasted one year” of her life.

I do feel that there is a role for some alternative forms of treatment, but I think it is important that a patient be realistic. For some reason, there is a misconception that alternative treatments are harmless. Unfortunately, some of these treatments do have complications that patients are usually unaware of. Furthermore, the supplement industry is very poorly regulated, and there is a great concern about impurity of the products. Also, many of these companies make outrageous claims without having any scientific proof.

A.I tried doing a search for “Nutrajoint” and was unable to find information on this product. I suspect that, with his degree of arthritis, it would be unlikely to give your brother-in-law significant relief. I would recommend that he be evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in joint replacement surgery. One point worth mentioning is that when a joint is removed to allow replacement, the arthritis is also removed. Problems can develop down the road with a joint replacement, but that would not be related to arthritis.

The Arthritis Foundation has published a Guide to Alternative Therapies that I think is an excellent resource for patients. You can purchase this by calling toll-free to (800) 207-8633. It explains in simple terms the risks and benefits of many of these forms of treatment.