As an orthopedic surgeon, it's quite rewarding to see patients benefit from quality care. You might be surprised to know that some of my most appreciative patients are those who come to me for surgery but never get surgery. Instead they're enrolled in a diet, exercise and supplement program for joint health. And they wind up avoiding surgery and feeling great.
That's why I get mad when I see sensationalized stories about supplements. I recently read an article titled, "Vitamin Supplements Are A Waste Of Money." What a misleading headline! Actually, it's preposterous, since I've seen so many patients benefit over the years.
For nearly a century, we've known about the significant benefits of vitamin C in curing scurvy and vitamin D in curing rickets. In the 1700s, American Indians used a component of the foxglove plant to effectively treat heart ailments. In modern medicine, we currently use that component in a medication called digoxin.
These types of headlines are based on the recent studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine that have appropriately questioned the value of taking supplements for various medical problems, including heart disease, neurologic disease, and cancer. Misinterpretation of these studies has led many to conclude that supplements, in general, are of no value. The truth is that the studies don't make that totally encompassing statement.
It's my viewpoint that supplements are of considerable value in treating specific disease processes. The key is that the supplements have to be specifically directed toward the disease pathology.
As an orthopedic surgeon with over 20 years of practice, I've found that specific supplements, (not multivitamins) are quite effective in treating joint pain from osteoarthritis. When I first started training to be a surgeon, there was no information supporting supplements as a serious means of treating joint pain.
Osteoarthritis was treated with various braces, over-the-counter and prescription medications, as well as surgery. That was it. However, research has accumulated over the last two decades which tells us that osteoarthritis is not just "wear and tear." It's more than a disease of the articular cartilage that caps the bones. It's a disease of the cartilage, bone, ligaments, muscles and perhaps, most importantly, the immune system.
About 15 years ago I slowly started to treat people with osteoarthritis, commonly known as "wear and tear arthritis" with a program focusing on diet, exercise and supplements. I am traditionally trained so my training naturally biased my views against supplements.
However, as scientific research revealed more about the intricate processes causing osteoarthritis it became more apparent that various supplements had the ability to specifically address some of these specific pathological processes. Just like vitamin C addresses the molecular deficiency of scurvy, there are supplements that address molecular imbalances of osteoarthritis. I now know that in many situations it is possible to treat osteoarthritis without surgery or prescription medications.
We know that molecular pathways of inflammation play a substantial role in osteoarthritis. Twenty years ago, we definitely didn't know that. Slowly that information is disseminating through the medical community. The process is very slow, however.
My background is in molecular biochemistry, so I'm fascinated by the intricate chemical pathways that cause inflammation and joint pain. Since research has elaborated these pathways, it seems logical that those supplements that curtail the pathways would be effective in helping osteoarthritic symptoms.
Lets discuss a few of those pathways: