Ginger Extract Effective against Knee Osteoarthritis
Adults suffering from osteoarthritis (OA) of the knees may experience less pain and swelling and increased mobility in the knees by taking an extract of ginger, according to a study recently published in OsteoArthritis and Cartilage (2003;11:783–9).
OA (also known as degenerative joint disease or DJD) occurs primarily in adults of middle age or older and is caused when the protective cartilage layer in the joints, such as the hips, knees, and hands, starts to degenerate. The inflammation and pain that result from OA may limit the mobility in the joint, hindering ability to perform daily activities. Medications to reduce inflammation, such as ibuprofen (Advil®), naproxen (Aleve®), celecoxib (Celebrex®), or rofecoxib (Vioxx®), may be used to decrease swelling in the joint and may also lower the amount of pain. However, these medications often cause adverse side effects when used long-term. Severe cases of OA may be treated surgically; joint-replacement surgery may be effective but a recent study questioned the effectiveness of arthroscopic surgery and found that those who underwent arthroscopic surgery of the knee for OA were no better off than those who had not received surgery.
In the new study, 29 adults between the ages of 42 and 85 with OA of the knees were assigned to receive 250 mg four times a day of a standardized extract of ginger (Zingiber officinale) or placebo for 12 weeks. Then for the next 12 weeks the group that had received ginger switched to the placebo and vice versa. All participants were then invited to continue with ginger treatment for another 24 weeks. Pain with knee movement, mobility, and knee circumference (a marker of knee swelling) were measured initially and then every month for the duration of the study.
Significant increases in mobility and reductions in knee pain with movement were observed in those taking ginger extract after previously taking a placebo and after taking ginger continuously for 24 weeks. Both the ginger and placebo groups had significant improvements in knee pain and mobility after the first 12 weeks of the study, compared with initial measurements, but these results were not statistically significant when the two groups were compared with each other. It is unclear why a high placebo response was observed during the first 12 weeks and not during the second 12 weeks. Those who had been taking ginger extract at 24 weeks continued to maintain improvements in knee pain and mobility after 48 weeks of ginger treatment, while those taking a placebo at 24 weeks had a significant drop in knee pain and an increase in mobility at the conclusion of the study. The authors of the new study suggest that the benefits of ginger may be delayed and that 24 weeks of continuous treatment may be optimal.
Other nutritional supplements may be useful in the treatment of OA, including glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, niacinamide (vitamin B3), S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe), green-lipped mussel, and vitamin E. Herbs that may also be effective include oral cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) and devil’s claw (Harpogophytum procumbens) or a topical application of cayenne pepper (Capsicum frutescens). See your healthcare provider for specific dose information.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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