The Village Doctor, Benjamin G. Newman, MD 207-963-2001

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Safe Alternatives for Pain

by Benjamin G. Newman, MD

Publish date: Sat, Sep 6th, 2014

I recently discussed the dangers of taking common anti-inflammatory agents such as Motrin, Naprosyn, and Aleve. I cited that each year approximately 17,00 people die from bleeding complications using these nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. If these drugs cause major side effects, what can a patient with arthritis use to get relief from their painful joints? Before I offer alternatives, I want to advise you that before you embark on any new treatment regimen, you must first consult with your health care provider.

Most practitioners have little interest in supplements or alternative medicines and most have little or no experience with the supplements that I am going to discuss. Your practitioner may tell you that there are no good randomized controlled studies that show these supplements are useful. I would remind them about an interesting study published in the British Medical Journal entitled, "Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomized controlled trials." In other words, is jumping out of airplane without a parachute any more dangerous than jumping out of an airplane wearing a parachute? This scientific study concluded:

  1. No randomized controlled trials of parachute use have been undertaken.
  2. The basis for parachute use is purely observational, and apparent efficacy could potentially be explained by a "healthy cohort" affect.
  3. Individuals who insist that all interventions need to be validated by a randomized control trial need to come down to earth with a bump.

Of course, studies on supplements will never be conducted because the pharmaceutical industry will never allow them. The results of these studies would rob them of enormous profits!

We have been told that osteoarthritis is a wear and tear disease that is not inflammatory in nature. This is not true, as osteoarthritis has a significant inflammatory component to it. So how do I treat a patient with chronic arthritic pain? First and foremost, I discuss weight management and diet with a specific emphasis on foods that promote an anti-inflammatory effect within the body. We talk the benefits of exercise utilizing weight bearing and non-weight bearing programs. We also discuss the value of acupuncture, yoga, and manual therapy including osteopathic, chiropractic, massage therapy and physical therapy.

I find the following supplements extremely useful in reducing pain and swelling of inflamed joints:

  • Glucosamine
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • S-Adenosyimethionie (SAMe)
  • Curcumin
  • Ginger
  • Boswellin Serrata
  • Vitamin D

Hundreds of Functional Medicine physicians have recommended these supplements to thousands of patients over generations with great results and little or no side effects. Also, many of these supplements have been shown in multiple clinical trials (observational) to reduce pain scores as much as 65% with zero side effects. And many of these supplements have an anti-inflammatory effect that exceeds those produced by NSAIDs.

The quality of supplements varies from brand to brand. Reputable nutritional supplement manufacturers formulate their products based on scientific research, buy the best raw materials and pay independent labs to make ensure that their products meet label claims and contain no contaminants. Details concerning their manufacturing practices should be available on company websites. When in doubt, I recommend that you contact the manufacturers to ask about verification of quality.

In the future, I will discuss specific doses and combinations of the supplements that yield the best results.