And, though sulfasalazine used to be very popular as an arthritis treatment, the drug is not used that often today in the United States, according to Dr. Stephen Lindsey, head of rheumatology at Ochsner Health Systems in Baton Rouge, La.
Methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall) is the drug most often used today, he said.
"I would be optimistic that an herbal medicine would play some role in improving rheumatoid arthritis," Lindsey said. But he added that he "would be a little bit wary since the medicine they compared it to is a fairly mild, anti-rheumatoid agent and not the standard drug used in the U.S."
Other alternative remedies, he said, have proven helpful for arthritis, including fish oil, though some of them have not held up to more rigorous studies.
Participants in the new study were allowed to continue taking oral prednisone or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, but anyone who was taking disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (such as methotrexate), which slow the progression of the disease, had to stop taking them about a month before the study began.
Researchers did not see a statistically significant difference in joint damage on X-rays, Klippel said. But he said that probably was because six months wasn't long enough for noticeable changes.
The study also had a high dropout rate, with 62 percent of those taking TwHF and 41 percent of the others continuing to the end. According to the study, 17 people taking sulfasalzine and 8 taking TwHF dropped out because of adverse effects -- most often gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea and diarrhea.
Lindsey noted that people should always remember to tell their doctor if they are taking an herbal supplement.
"Just because something is herbal doesn't mean it's going to be cheap or safe," he said.
The Arthritis Fou
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