Arthritis is easily the most common cause of physical disability in America. A newly released report from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that nearly 50 million Americans have doctor-diagnosed arthritis (including both osteoarthritis, or OA, and rheumatoid arthritis, or RA) and predicts that that number will soar to 67 million in the next 20 years. That’s a lot of stiff, painful knees, hands, shoulders and feet!

While some folks joke that they’re headed straight for joint replacement, the truth is that arthritis responds well to many natural therapies, including dietary supplements. The staggering numbers in the new NIH report motivated me to check in with Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, a licensed naturopathic physician and health and nutrition writer in Kingston, Rhode Island, who treats many arthritis patients.

Pain Soothers for Arthritis Patients

Dr. Beauchamp shared some supplements and natural therapies that many arthritis patients find helpful:

  • Zyflamend. This proprietary blend of supplements contains 10 anti-inflammatory plant extracts that can be helpful for many people with both OA and RA. Dr. Beauchamp has patients take one capsule twice daily with meals. (Available online at and at many health-food stores.)
  • Red Seaweed Extract. Red seaweed extract (Lithomanion calcarea) can help people with OA. One study reported in Nutrition Journal and funded by Marigot, the company that makes Aquamin (a patented red seaweed extract), found that taking the extract for one month was associated with a 20% reduction in arthritis pain. Patients also reported less stiffness and better range of motion and were able to walk further than those taking a placebo. A typical dose would be 2,400 mg of seaweed extract in capsule form each day, Dr. Beauchamp said. (Note: Seaweed contains iodine in amounts that may be dangerous to thyroid patients.)
  • Vitamin D. New research indicates that vitamin D may play a key role in slowing the development and progression of both OA and RA. If you have either, it’s a good idea to get your blood level of vitamin D checked, said Dr. Beauchamp. If you are deficient, she suggests taking at least 1,000 IU of vitamin D-3 (cholecalciferol) each day.
  • Peat/Peloid Packs (also called balneotherapy). Commonly used in Europe, this is a form of thermal mud therapy that holds heat particularly well. Peat (or peloid packs that are sheets of peat mud on fabric) is applied to the aching area for about 20 minutes. The treatment can be done at home, but Dr. Beauchamp said it is far better to work with a physical therapist or doctor who is knowledgeable in the technique, as the packs are cumbersome and must be carefully applied to protect the skin from burning. Peat therapy treatments are typically administered over the course of several visits, declining in frequency as the patient’s pain begins to ease — the results are long-lasting and you can resume treatment if and when the pain returns.

Oldies But Goodies

Here are some other remedies that you’ve likely already heard about but that shouldn’t be overlooked if you are searching for relief from arthritis pain…

  • Fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids). Effective at reducing inflammation for both RA and OA, studies show that omega-3s can be so helpful for RA patients that they sometimes can reduce their medications. OA patients usually see results quickly — Dr. Beauchamp said two grams of fish oil daily is a common dosage, while RA patients may require higher levels to benefit. Ask your doctor about the appropriate amount for you.
  • Glucosamine sulfate/chondroitin sulfate (or chondroitin sodium sulfate). Dr. Beauchamp often prescribes 1,500 mg of glucosamine and 1,200 mg of chondroitin daily, divided into three doses. Caution: Glucosamine and chondroitin often are derived from crabs and other hard-shelled sea creatures, so do not take them if you are allergic to shellfish. Glucosamine and chondroitin should also be avoided by people on blood-thinning medications such as warfarin (Coumadin).
  • Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a sulfur derivative that is beneficial for some people with OA . It may help prevent cartilage degeneration, and it’s also known to decrease pain and improve physical function. It’s thought that MSM works better when combined with glucosamine — take one gram of MSM twice daily with meals.

And Don’t Forget About These!

  • Massage and acupuncture. Many people, including those with RA or OA, find these treatments to be soothing — it makes sense, since both techniques increase blood flow to the muscles and ligaments around the joints (particularly the knees and hips), which are stressed by arthritis.
  • Exercise. Acknowledging that this often is the last thing people in pain feel like doing, Dr. Beauchamp says exercise is still essential for both OA and RA patients. The primary benefit: Exercise delivers fresh blood cells to the affected areas, bringing in nutrients and removing waste, including acidic waste products in the muscles that may provoke inflammation. She suggests swimming, walking or perhaps working with a trainer who is knowledgeable about arthritis.
  • Weight control. Keeping your weight down reduces the pressure on painful joints for both OA and RA patients. The NIH study mentioned earlier in the story found twice as much arthritis in obese people as in people of healthy weight. One study showed that losing just 11 pounds reduced risk for knee OA by half and significantly reduced pain in the knees of those already afflicted.

Arthritis is awful — no question — but drugs and/or surgery aren’t the only solutions. Dr. Beauchamp assured me that the research pipeline is filled with other promising new therapies in addition to the intriguing ones we discussed above, so you can count on hearing about these regularly in upcoming issues of Daily Health News.