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Herbal Medicines for Arthritis Not Backed by Evidence
Date:1/12/2012

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 11 (HealthDay News) -- There is little evidence to support the widespread use of herbal medicines to relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis, according to a review of these products.

Osteoarthritis is a painful condition that involves damage to cartilage and other structures in and around the joints, particularly the fingers, knees and hips. It differs from rheumatoid arthritis, which is an immune-based disorder.

Devil's claw, cat's claw, ginger, nettle, rosehip, turmeric, willow bark, Indian frankincense and vegetable extracts of avocado or soybean oils are all among the herbal medicines traditionally used to treat osteoarthritis.

"Unfortunately, a large number of people suffer from osteoarthritis pain," said one expert, Dr. Robert Graham, an internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"Current pharmacological management is largely focused upon reduction of pain and of inflammation with the use of NSAIDs [painkillers] and Tylenol, offering only temporary pain relief at the expense of known adverse effects associated with NSAID use," he added. "Patients have and will continue to use herbal and dietary supplements with hopes of finding the 'cure' for osteoarthritis pain, many times without sharing this with a conventional medical professional."

However, few studies on the use of herbal medicines for osteoarthritis have been conducted, according to the authors of the review in the January issue of the journal Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin. Many of the studies that have been carried out had design flaws and limitations, included too few patients, or weren't long enough, according to a journal news release.

The available clinical trial evidence suggests that the vegetable extracts, Indian frankincense and rosehip may be effective and produce few unwanted side effects, but more "robust data are needed," according to the journal.

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