Complementary treatments and arthritis – from turmeric to cannabis oil
People use complementary medicine for many different reasons, including:
- wanting to use more natural treatments
- their symptoms aren’t fully controlled by conventional medicine.
Read more about complementary therapies which can help to ease the symptoms of arthritis, from yoga to meditation.
Are they right for me?
As with all complementary treatments, different things work for different people and it isn’t possible to predict which might be the most useful or effective.
There are some key points to consider if you’re thinking about using any complementary treatments.
- What are you hoping to achieve? Pain relief? More energy? Better sleep? Reduction in medication?
- What are the financial costs?
- Is there any evidence for their effectiveness?
Are complementary medicines safe?
Complementary medicines are relatively safe, although you should always talk to your doctor before you start any new treatment.
In specific cases they may not be recommended, for example, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or they may interact with certain medication.
A starter for five
Here we share a spotlight on the most popular complementary medicines that people call our helpline about.
It’s thought that turmeric can possibly reduce inflammation, which could help people with arthritis.
People with knee osteoarthritis who took part in a research trial reported improvements to their pain levels after taking turmeric. The evidence is limited however, as it is from just one trial. What evidence there is suggested that people only had minor side-effects after taking turmeric.
Turmeric can be bought from health food shops, pharmacies and supermarkets in the form of powder.
Glucosamine sulphate and glucosamine hydrochloride are nutritional supplements. Animal studies have found that glucosamine can both delay the breakdown of and repair damaged cartilage.
The results for the use of glucosamine for osteoarthritis are mixed and the size of the effect is modest. There’s some evidence that more recent trials and those using higher-quality methods are less likely to show a benefit.
Capsaicin is taken from chilli peppers. It works mainly by reducing Substance P, a pain transmitter in your nerves. Results from randomised controlled trials assessing its role in treating osteoarthritis suggest that it can be effective in reducing pain and tenderness in affected joints, and it has no major safety problems. Evidence for its effectiveness for fibromyalgia is related to a single trial.
Other names: Axsain®, Zacin®, chilli, pepper gel, cayenne
Capsaicin is licensed in the UK for osteoarthritis and you can get it on prescription in the form of gels, creams and plasters.
There are no major safety concerns in applying capsaicin gel/cream. A review of capsaicin applied to the skin to treat chronic pain (not specifically related to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia) concluded that around one third of people experience a reaction around the area where the treatment is applied. It’s important to keep capsaicin away from your eyes, mouth and open wounds because it will cause irritation. There have been no reported drug interactions.
Fish oils are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Fish liver oil is also a rich source of vitamin A (a strong antioxidant) and vitamin D (which is important for maintaining healthy joints).
Evidence suggests that fish body oil can improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Unconfirmed evidence also suggests a combination of fish body and liver oils might also be useful in the long term, particularly in reducing the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). There isn’t enough evidence for the use of fish liver oil for osteoarthritis.
Omega-3 fatty acids also play a role in lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your blood, so they can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke in people with inflammatory arthritis.
In the UK, dietary guidelines recommend eating two portions of fish a week, including one oily. Fish oil is considered to be well tolerated at this dose.
At the correct doses, side-effects are usually minor and uncommon.
Cannabis oil (CBD)
CBD is type of cannabinoid – a natural substance extracted from the cannabis plant and often mixed with an oil (such as coconut or hemp) to create CBD oil. It does not contain the psychoactive compound called tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) which is associated with the feeling of being ‘high’.
Research in cannabinoids over the years suggests that they can be effective in treating certain types of chronic pain such as pain from nerve injury, but there is currently not enough evidence to support using cannabinoids in reducing musculoskeletal pain. We welcome further research to better understand its impact and are intently following developments internationally.
CBD oil can be legally bought as a food supplement in the UK from heath food shops and some pharmacies. However, CBD products are not licensed as a medicine for use in arthritis by MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority) or approved by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) or the SMC (Scottish Medicines consortium).
We know anecdotally from some people with arthritis, that CBD has reduced their symptoms. If you’re considering using CBD to manage the pain of your arthritis, it’s important to remember it cannot replace your current medicines, and it may interact with them, so please do not stop/start taking anything without speaking to a healthcare professional.
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CBD vs Ibuprofen for Pain Relief
When we have a headache, or some kind of nagging pain, most of us reach for our trusty bottle of Advil or Ibuprofen. Pain and inflammation will likely affect every adult at some point, and for some, chronic pain conditions can be extremely detrimental to a person’s daily life.
These over-the-counter anti-inflammation medications are readily available and commonly used. While they may get the job done in the short term, the effects from long term use could have serious implications on the body. Potential side effects from long term use include heartburn, ulcers, dizziness, liver or kidney diseases, headaches, heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke.
A safer alternative
Thankfully, mother nature has provided us with a safer, natural alternative that gets the job done just as good, if not better than NSAID’s (Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs like Advil, Ibuprofen, Tylenol), minus the nasty side effects. As Cannabidiol (CBD) continues to make its grand entrance to the world by providing a number of health benefits, one of the most highly touted attributes of this amazing Hemp Plant Extract is its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties.
The Hemp plant has been used for centuries to relieve pain. Today, research is looking at the interaction between cannabinoids and their anti-inflammatory effects on the body, confirming CBD as a powerful alternative to NSAIDs like ibuprofen.
How Do NSAIDs work?
When the body suffers an injury, compounds called prostanoids are produced. These include prostaglandins, which are involved in inflammation, and thromboxane, which is involved in blood clotting. These compounds are produced by cyclooxyrgenase enzymes called COX-1 and COX-2.
Like other anti-inflammatory and pain-control drugs, ibuprofen inhibits the release of these chemical compounds generated by our body’s response to an injury, trauma, or infection. Ibuprofen inhibits the production of prostaglandins by decreasing the activity of the enzyme cyclooxyrgenase, but, just like aspirin, ibuprofen is a non-selective COX inhibitor. This means it inhibits both COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, potentially causing more side effects than other select NSAIDs.
How does CBD work in the body?
The Endocannabinoid system (ECS) is mostly active in pain control at the central nervous system level. It is also active in the peripheral systems preventing painful and itchy symptoms brought on by inflammation caused by allergies and dermatitis. CBD is also able to modulate pain thresholds and slow the release of inflammatory molecules. This is the same exact way that Advil works! In fact, cannabinoids synergistically work with other body systems that regulate pain, working to get our bodies moving and feeling better faster. So, CBD arguably works just as well, if not better than, NSAIDs. There are a variety of products that can help with pain such as CBD-infused bath soaks, topicals, or salves in addition to CBD oils.
Toss your pills, pick up CBD!
When replacing Ibuprofen with CBD, the user will notice comparable relief, without any of the negative health risks, plus the additional therapeutic and health benefits that come with CBD. If you are looking for a natural pain relieving remedy, then CBD may be your answer.
Other Natural Pain Relief Remedies that work synergistically w/ CBD
TerraVita launched our Ease tincture to “Ease Pain, Naturally.” Ease combines 1000mg of Premium Full Spectrum CBD, Turmeric, Glucosamine, and White Willow Bark to provide a potent headache and pain relieving elixir. Combining the pain relieving effects of CBD, the anti-inflammatory properties of Turmeric and Glucosamine, and White Willow Bark, also known as “Nature’s Advil” makes for a natural pain relieving elixir that can rival NSAIDs without the dreaded side effects!†