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HomeArthritis Therapy  
Arthritis Therapy
Finally... An Arthritis Therapy That Works
Vijay Vad, MD
Hospital for Special Surgery

Only about half of the people who suffer from osteoarthritis pain get significant relief from aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil) or other non­steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) -- and each year, an estimated 16,000 Americans die from gastrointestinal bleeding or other side effects from these medications.

New approach: Up to 80% of people who have osteoarthritis can experience significant improvement in pain and mobility -- and reduce their need for medication and surgery -- when they combine dietary changes, supplement use and the right kind of exercise. This program provides significant relief within six weeks.


Inflammation in the body has been implicated in heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease -- and it also contributes to osteoarthritis.

The incidence of arthritis has steadily risen since the early 1900s, when processed foods, such as packaged crackers, cereals, bread and snack foods, began to dominate the American diet -- and more people started becoming obese. Most of these foods actually promote inflammation, which can cause joint and cartilage damage and aggravate arthritis pain.

Studies suggest that adding more foods with anti-inflammatory effects to the average American diet -- and reducing foods that promote inflammation -- can curb inflammation by 20% to 40%.

Best anti-inflammatory foods...

    • Apricots and berries contain large amounts of antioxidants, chemical compounds that reduce inflammation. Juices are concentrated fruits and vegatables loadedm with antioxidants.

    • Almonds contain fiber, vitamin E and monounsaturated fats, all of which curb inflammation.

    • Fish contain Omega 3 fish oils.

Other important steps...

Increase omega-3s. These inflammation-fighting essential fatty acids are mainly found in cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. At least three three-ounce servings of fish per week provide adequate levels of omega-3s.

People who don't like fish, or don't eat it often, can take fish-oil supplements or flaxseed oil.

Advice: Take 2 g to 3 g daily of a fish-oil supplement that contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)... or one to three tablespoons daily of flaxseed oil.

Caution: Because fish oil taken at this dosage can have a blood-thinning effect, check with your doctor if you take a blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin (Coumadin).

Reduce omega-6s. Most Americans get far too many of these inflammation-promoting fatty acids in their diets. A century ago, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids was about 2:1 for the typical American. Today, it's about 20:1. This imbalance boosts levels of a chemical by-product, arachidonic acid, that triggers inflammation.

Advice: Because omega-6s are found primarily in red meats, commercially processed foods (described earlier) and fast foods, anyone with arthritis should avoid these foods as much as possible.

Give up nightshades. Although the reason is unknown, tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplant, peppers and other foods in the nightshade family have been found to increase arthritis pain. It has been estimated that up to 20% of arthritis patients get worse when they eat these foods.

Advice: If you eat these foods and have arthritis pain, give them up completely for six months to see if there's an improvement. For a complete list of nightshade foods, go to the Arthritis Foundation Web site at and enter "nightshade" in the search box.


Americans spend billions of dollars annually on supplements to ease arthritis pain, but many of them are ineffective. Best choices...

Ginger. The biochemical structure of this herb (commonly used as a spice) is similar to that of NSAIDs, making it a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. A study of 250 patients at the University of Miami School of Medicine found that ginger, taken twice daily, was as effective as prescription and over-the-counter drugs at controlling arthritis pain.

Advice: Add several teaspoons of fresh ginger to vegetables, salads, etc., daily or take a daily supplement containing 500 mg of ginger.

Caution: Ginger thins the blood, so consult your doctor if you take blood-thinning medication.

Glucosamine and chondroitin. Taken in a combination supplement, such as Cosamine DS, these natural anti-inflammatories inhibit enzymes that break down cartilage and enhance the production of glycosaminoglycans, molecules that stimulate cartilage growth.

Advice: Take 1,500 mg of glucosamine and 1,200 mg of chondroitin daily. Or consider using a product called Zingerflex, which contains glucosamine and chondroitin as well as ginger.

Caution: If you have diabetes, consult your doctor before using glucosamine. It can raise blood sugar. Do not take glucosamine if you are allergic to shellfish.


Osteoarthritis pain weakens muscles, which diminishes joint support. The result is more inflammation and pain, and faster progression of the underlying disease.

Common exercises, including running and traditional forms of yoga, actually can increase pain by putting too much pressure on the joints. Patients benefit most from medical exercise, which includes modified versions of common strengthening and stretching exercises, supervised by a physical therapist. (To locate a physical therapist in your area, contact the American Physical Therapy Association at 800-999-2782 or

It's best to perform medical exercises under the guidance of a physical therapist for one to two months before beginning an exercise program at home. Best choices...

Medical yoga improves joint strength and flexibility by strengthening muscles and moving joints through their full range of motion. Unlike conventional yoga, it does not require poses that put undue stress on the joints.

Pilates combines yoga-like stretching and breathing control to strengthen the "core" muscles in the lower back and abdomen, as well as muscles in the hips. Like medical yoga, it puts very little pressure on the joints. A move called One-Leg Circle is typical of the Pilates exercises that are recommended for arthritis patients.

To perform One-Leg Circle...

    Lie on your back with your arms at your sides and your palms down. Tighten the abdominal muscles, press the lower back toward the floor and raise your right leg toward the ceiling. Point your toe.

    Rotate your right leg clockwise. Breathe in during half the rotation, then exhale during the other half. Then rotate the leg in the other direction. Repeat the sequence four times. Repeat with your left leg.

Healthy breathing. Most of us take shallow breaths from the upper lungs -- a breathing pattern that increases levels of stress hormones and heightens pain.

Better: Deep breathing, which promotes the release of pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins. Patients who breathe deeply for five minutes daily have less pain for several hours afterward. Practice deep breathing in addition to a regular exercise program.

Here's how...

    Sit in a chair with both feet flat on the floor. Close your mouth, place one hand on your stomach and breathe deeply through your nose until you can feel your stomach expanding. Hold your breath for 10 seconds.

    Exhale through your nose, contracting your stomach until you've expelled as much air as possible. Hold the "emptiness" for a moment before inhaling again. Repeat the cycle for at least five consecutive minutes daily.


Gin-Soaked Raisins for Arthritis: What is it?

The consumption of homemade gin-soaked raisins has become a popular folk remedy for arthritis, destined to take its place among other unproven arthritis folk remedies such as copper bracelets, bee stings, certo fruit pectin and magnets. When most hear of this practice, their response tends to be something like "are you serious?". Some are serious and swear that the gin and raisins remedy helps relieve their arthritis pain.


Gin-Soaked Raisins for Arthritis: What is the Recipe?

Although there are several versions and variations of the gin-soaked raisin remedy, the general recipe seems to go something like this:
take a box of golden raisins. (note: they must be the golden variety, sometimes called white raisins, not ordinary black raisins).
place the raisins in a shallow container.
cover the raisins with gin.
let the raisins soak in the gin for a few weeks until the gin evaporates.
you then eat nine of these drunken raisins a day to help your arthritis. (note: nine a day is the number you see most often, but you'll find many variations of the number).


Gin-Soaked Raisins for Arthritis: What is the Background?

Where and when did this remedy start? Since this is a folk remedy, it's hard to say just when and where it got its start. Purportedly the remedy got its first real boost in the 1990's when radio icon Paul Harvey mentioned the remedy during one of his popular broadcasts.

After the remedy got press, it made its way into media outlets across the country. Several versions of the recipe, including many convincing testimonials on its effectiveness, have now been included in several books about home and folk remedies.

More recently, according to a report in the New York Daily News, on the 2004 presidential campaign trail, Teresa Heinz Kerry (wife of democratic presidential candidate John Kerry) ended a Nevada visit to discuss health care with a discussion on what she called “a highly effective” remedy for arthritis that drew laughter and some skepticism from the audience. She was reported to have said, "You get some gin and get some white raisins - and only white raisins - and soak them in the gin for two weeks. Then eat nine of the raisins a day." Needless to say, the political bloggers had a heyday with her comments, which only added to her quirky image.


Gin-Soaked Raisins for Arthritis: Does it really work?

To date, there have been no placebo-controlled double-blind studies to prove the efficacy of the remedy. However, many "theories" do exist as to why this remedy might have some value. Some think it's the sulfur or sulphides used in the process of making the "white" or golden raisins. However, according to the Raisin Administrative Committee, "In much of the world, including the USA, the golden raisin is also referred to as a "bleached raisin." This is an incorrect term, as the dark raisin is not bleached. Rather, the enzymatic browning that normally occurs in a fresh grape is slowed down by treatment of sulfur dioxide gas. The raisin is preserved in a glimmering golden color. In the USA we call this a "golden" raisin."

Some think it's the juniper berries used in gin. According to Barry Lazar from, "The flavour of gin comes from juniper berries. These come from conifer plants, evergreens common in Europe and North America. New berries appear in the fall and can take two or three years to ripen. They are rich in vitamin C and terpenes, the essential oil which, in large quantities is manufactured into turpentine. During the Middle Ages the berries were kept in nosegays to help block the scent of the plague. For centuries, medicinal usage favoured using them in anti-inflammatory prescriptions."

Some think it's the raisins. As stated in the Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook on Mother, "If you benefit from gin-steeped raisins, the raisins probably do you more good than the gin. Grapes and raisins contain many pain relieving, anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory chemicals."

Some think it's the placebo effect. It is known that when people believe strongly in a treatment their endorphins and natural pain mediators are enhanced. Also, arthritis characteristically has periods of flares and remissions. You may attribute feeling better to the gin and raisins when it's truly due to a remission.


Gin-Soaked Raisins for Arthritis: The Bottom Line

Never begin any new treatment without first consulting your doctor. If you are considering this remedy, you should discuss it with your doctor. There could be negative interactions with your current treatment. As a guideline, when home remedies are considered, they should be "in addition to" rather than "instead of" current medical treatment.

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