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Living more safely with rheumatoid arthritis

Omega-3 fatty acids cut pain and risk for drug treatment side-effects in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and the herb cat’s claw reduced RA pain, two new studies reveal.

In RA, the immune system mistakenly attacks the joint linings, causing pain, stiffness and swelling. There is no known cure for RA and in this study, researchers wanted to find a safer alternative to the most common treatment, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). NSAIDS can cause serious side effects in the stomach, intestine, heart and blood vessels, and those at risk in these areas should not take them. About 60 women and men with RA, aged 37 to 78, took 10 grams of cod liver oil—containing 2,200 mg of the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—or a placebo, for nine months. Participants kept track of NSAID doses, which they tried to reduce starting at 12 weeks on EPA. The goal was to cut NSAIDS by at least 30 percent, which nearly 40 percent of those in the EPA group were able to do and 10 percent of those in the placebo group were able to do. Doctors concluded that omega-3s can help those with RA reduce the use of NSAIDS and the risk for stomach, intestine, heart and blood vessel side effects.

In a cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) study, 40 participants with RA who were taking immune-suppressing prescription drugs also took cat’s claw extract or a placebo. After 24 weeks, those who had taken cat’s claw had 53 percent fewer painful joints, compared to 24 percent for placebo. In a second phase of the study, all participants took cat’s claw for another 28 weeks. Those who had taken a placebo in the first phase had fewer painful joints with cat’s claw, and those who took cat’s claw in both phases continued to improve.

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