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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Glucosamine vs Chondroitin Sulfate

Be sure to buy a brand that passed the independent laboratory testing through Consumer Labs or other third party testing.

Their studies revealed concern surrounding some crab and shrimp sources of glucosamine and chondroitin being contaminated with lead.

Now something that we take three times a day should not have lead in it! As much as I am not a fan of Costco, their Kirkland brand passed with flying colors.

Remember that the FDA does not regulate supplements in America so if you want your natural substance to work you need to shop smart. Aside from the prescription pharmaceutical grade products that I work with, I have found Twinlab, Jarrow, and Enzymatic Therapy to all be trusted widely available brands that have also passed this test at Consumer Labs. (Just my honest opinion with no strings attached!)

Many chondroitin products do not contain nearly the amount of chondroitin that they purport on the label.

If glucosamine causes digestive upset you should take it in divided doses. Everyone with arthritis should most likely be taking fish oil as an anti-inflammatory measure, and I will write on herbal medicine for arthritis in an upcoming article. For severe arthritis, I typically prescribe 500mg of glucosamine 3 times daily. After symptoms abait this may be reduced to a maintenence dose for economic purposes. I pretty good study found that glucosamine was effective for 80% of patients after about three weeks of use. If you have used the product for three months consistently, and have not noticed any benefits, then you may need to consider that glucosamine or chondroitin may not be helpful for your particular arthritis.

Natural Treatments for Arthritis

The most common question I seem to get is “What can I do naturally for arthritis” followed by “What is better glucosamine, chondroitin, or MSM?”

Those are great questions and first before I begin would like to just start a brief tirade about the use of NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) otherwise known as the common pain relievers that we use to treat temporary pain such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

Now the KEY to the sentence I just typed is the word “temporary”.

NSAIDS and heaven forbid cortisone injections (please only do this as a last resort as cortisone completely shuts down your joints ability to repair as does stress) are simply a quick fix for pain and not a great long term solution as they actually INHIBIT the synthesis of cartilage.


Isn’t that why we have osteoarthritis in the first place? The meniscus (shock pad between joints) is made of cartilage right? As we age it gets worn down and our joint space naturally diminshes, loses lubrication and eventually as a result we are in severe pain because we have bone rubbing on bone. Ouch!

Now that everyone is hip to the fact that NSAIDS are not a great long term solution for joint pain, let’s talk about the things that are.

The answer to the question of “What is better glucosamine, chondroitin, or MSM?” is “all of the above”. A good student when in doubt always picks “all of the above” or “C”. Now you could effectively choose “C” for chondroitin and that would not be a bad answer, but chondroitin is also pretty pricey so most people buy it with glucosamine and MSM. Glucosamine was shown to reduce arthritis symptoms in 80% of people after just three weeks. Now 80% is FANTASTIC for any drug in a research study. So you can’t go wrong with glucosamine on its own.

Personally I am not convinced that glucosamine is better than chondroitin or vice versa. So in this case we can easily choose “all of the above” because great research studies support the efficacy and safety of all three. So why not use them all together for a nice synergistic effect? Especially a great option for those with severe arthritis. You want to make sure that you are constantly topping off these nutrients that help the joints regenerate. MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is typically the least helpful of the three but is also super cheap so in a pinch is better than nothing, and it is great for irritable bladder and the skin.

Fish Oil for Arthritis

One of the greatest flaws in the Standard American Diet (SAD) is a lack of omega-3 fatty acids.

Repleting this deficiency typically improves memory and mental functioning as well as corrects a gamut of other annoying health problems.

The reason for this is that these essential oils are necessary for proper brain functioning, immune function, hormonal balance and skin integrity as they are the necessary building blocks for the cellular membrane of every single cell in our body. Wow just ONE thing for all SIXTY TRILLION cells in your body!

This must be pretty important then…

Signs of omega-3 deficiency are memory loss, ADHD behavior, depression, dry skin, calluses on the heels, tendency to produce excess ear wax, rashes, arthritis and inflammation. Omega-3’s also appear to decrease the incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease as well as reduce the severity of psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetic complications. Substantial evidence also supports the use of fish oil for reduction of blood pressure, clotting, arrhythmias as well as hardening of the arteries. These oils are especially fundamental to the nervous system as they “insulate” each nerve fiber and speed it’s conductive ability. Electrical signals cannot travel rapidly in our bodies without the myelin sheath formed from these good fats.

A nervous system deficient in omega-3’s is as about as effective as a lamp with a frayed cord.

For most patients I just typically go straight for the fish oil. Ultimately I prefer to use plant foods over animal foods whenever possible for environmental purposes, however, fish oil is the rare exception to this rule. People of Northern European descent especially seem to have a problem converting the omega-3 fats found in plants like flax and walnut as the diet of their ancestors was heavily reliant on cold water fish. Many people are also deficient in magnesium and B vitamins that along with zinc play a key role in the biochemical process of converting plant oils like flax to the form the body can use. Fish oil conveniently comes already converted to DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) the key players in brain function, inflammation, and disease prevention.

Adding a couple of teaspoons of fish oil in to your daily routine is as fundamental as a multi-vitamin in my opinion. Please note that if you are pregnant you should NOT use cod liver oil because the high vitamin A content can lead to birth defects. Flax oil or a non fish liver oil without any vitamin A would be the better option in this case, especially because omega-3’s have been shown to reduce the risk of pre-term labor, so including them safely in the diet is important for a healthy pregnancy. Always check with your OB/GYN before taking any supplements. Because of the anti-coagulant properties, fish oil should also not be used by those with bleeding disorders or taking blood thinning medications. Please check with your Naturopathic Physician before making any changes to your health care routine.

One of the cheapest ways to add omega-3 oils in to your diet is to simply purchase a big bag of flaxseeds and a cheap coffee grinder used solely for grinding them. Flax seeds are dirt cheap, full of omega-3’s, protein and fiber (1 Tbl=2 grams of fiber). They are also great for treating menopausal symptoms as the lignans have a phytoestrogenic effect that work synergistically with the omega-3 oils to balance hormones. You can mix three tablespoons of ground flax seeds with applesauce and enjoy them an hour before bed to also stabilize your blood sugar for a good night’s sleep. Now flax oil is extremely delicate so please grind the seeds right before you add them to smoothies, salads, yogurt, applesauce, soups and the like. Flax should never be cooked above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also use flax seed oil as a salad dressing by adding equal parts of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, along with your favorite seasonings.

So enough blah blah blah…the take home message is that you can easily add ground flax seeds to your diet as a cheap healthy preventative measure as well as eat more Alaskan wild salmon (not farm raised salmon as it is high in PCB’s aka toxins. Current lists of safe fish for consumption are available at For those with chronic disease or neurological disorders, fish oil is most likely the better choice.

Whatever you do, don’t waste your time with supplements that claim they have the perfect balance of “Omega-6 and Omega-9″ blended with the Omega-3’s, as those oils are already widely available in most of the vegetable oils, raw nuts and seeds that we consume… so you are just wasting your money by taking those in a supplement. They are cheaper oils that just make the products more affordable but defeat the purpose in my opinion if you are already eating fat in your diet. I am a big fan of Carlson Lemon Flavored Cod Liver Oil. Be sure to use a high quality fish oil that has passed independent laboratory testing for mercury content, PCB’s, dioxins and spoilage.

To avoid burping up fish oil all day take it immediately before eating, never on an empty stomach. If that doesn’t work, you can also keep the capsules in the freezer so that they will stay intact through the stomach until they reach their absorption destination in the small bowel.

Fish oil should be stored in the fridge after opening, or at least a dark cupboard.

Castor Oil Packs for Arthritis

Osteoarthritis may improve from the anti-inflammatory nature of castor oil.

Castor oil packs aid in elimination and detoxification processes in the body, through some mechanism that is likely related to its anodyne and anti-inflammatory properties such as cytokine modulation.

Uterine fibroids, non-malignant ovarian cysts, headaches, liver disorders, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, intestinal disorders, gallbladder inflammation or stones, night time urinary frequency and inflamed joints

Castor oil packs should be used with caution or avoided during pregnancy, bleeding disorders and active ulcers. Castor oil packs should not be used in cancer as heating treatments may help the cancer spread. Individuals with chemical sensitivity disorders may have an increase in symptoms after using the castor oil pack, especially at the beginning of treatment, as it aids (and stimulates) the process of elimination and detoxification. It may be best to shorten the length of time of the castor oil pack treatment initially and should be discussed with your physician.

• Flannel Cloth (cotton or wool, washed and dried, 20” to 40” x 24” to 48”)
• Plastic wrap (clear kitchen plastic wrap or plastic bag without printing)
• Glass dish (Pyrex or similar dish large enough to warm the flannel castor oil pack prior to use)
• Old bath towel
• Hot water bottle or hot gel pack
• Castor oil
• Large zip-lock bag

1. Fold the washed and dried flannel cloth so that it is 2-3 layers thick and fits over most of your abdomen.
2. Soak the flannel cloth in castor oil. Strip or loosely wring out the excess oil. There will be excess oil for the first few applications, after that the castor oil pack should not drip excess oil.
3. Put the castor oil pack in a heat-safe glass dish and place in oven or in microwave to heat to a comfortable temperature.
4. Lay down in a comfortable position. You may want to place an old towel or plastic under you during the initial applications to avoid oil stains from getting on your bedding, upholstery or carpeting. Place the castor oil pack directly on your abdomen.
5. Cover the pack with a sheet of plastic, again to avoid staining.
6. Wrap an old towel around your abdomen to hold the castor oil pack in place, and secure. Place a hot water bottle or gel pack over the towel. Wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
7. Leave the castor oil pack on for 45-60 minutes.
8. It is fine to fall asleep with the castor oil pack on, as long as you are not using an electrical heating source.
9. When you are done, store the pack in a large zip-lock bag in the refrigerator. The pack can be used repeatedly, adding more castor oil as needed. The castor oil pack can be used for several months.

What is Arthritis?

The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis.

The term ‘osteoarthritis’ refers to local or general degeneration of the articular cartilage and the formation of bone “lips” and “spurs” at the margin of joints.

Affected joints typically have symptoms of unilateral or bilateral stiffness, pain and reduced range of motion that worsen over time. Joints that are most commonly affected include the first joints of the fingers and toes, the spine, the knees and hips. The onset is gradual and typically occurs in people over the age of 45.


This website is intended for educational purposes only. Read our full disclaimer. Always work with your physician for proper care and supervision. Never make any changes to your health care without first consulting with your physician. Have your physician check for drug interactions, and always be cautious when combining natural medicines and prescription drugs, especially those for arthritis.