Complementary Medicine for Rheumatic Diseases -- MEDICA - World Forum for Medicine

Complementary Medicine for Rheumatic Diseases

Photo: Fruits and vegetables

Less link pain through vegetarian
nutrition; © SXC

Miracle cures which are to help against degenerative joint diseases and make pain disappear overnight can be found in the internet. Products like CM Pur or MSM are offered which allegedly relieve arthrosis with organic sulphur or prevent arthritis with a substance named cetylmyristoleate which was once discovered in mice. “They are commercial interests that are behind many remedies”, states professor Gustav Dobos who holds a chair of naturopathy at University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.

However, these kinds of products cast a poor light on methods coming from the area of natural medicine. Many therapy methods are reliable and can be helpful in medicating rheumatism. One of them is the dietetic treatment. In addition to hydro and exercise therapy as well as a kind of “being balanced in life” therapy and phytotherapy it is one pillar of traditional naturopathic treatments. Doctor Artur Wölfel, senior physician MD of the Hospital for Natural Healing in Munich, Germany, recommends arthritis patients to switch to vegetarian food. “It is scientifically proven that a diet with fruits and vegetables is able to reduce joint pain.”

This is due to the fact that a lot of arachidonic acid is contained in animal foods like pork dripping or beef. The acid plays an important role in the formation of substances which activate inflammations and should be avoided by patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Arachidonic acid’s antagonists are omega-3 fatty acids which can be found in fish. The doctor should be consulted beforehand before deciding whether it is enough to eat a salmon filet or a herring once a week or rather take fish oil capsules from the pharmacy. The same applies to all naturopathy products since they can have side effects and can be harmful in combination with drugs against other illnesses.

In addition, phytotherapy is often used in the treatment of rheumatoid diseases: Devil’s claw, frankincense and stinging nettle have been tried and tested. Taken in the form of tea, capsule or ointment they have an anti-inflammatory effect. However, a patient should be advised a doctor - not only under health, but also under financial aspects because despite empirical proved effect of naturopathic treatment like herbal medicine the patient normally has to pay the medical costs himself. Health insurances pay in exceptional cases only.

German health insurances pay for treatments such as acupuncture in certain pilot projects. This treatment belongs to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is often used in medicating rheumatism. Next to the classical treatments described before, TCM takes its own place in natural therapies like homeopathy or leech therapy. Even though only few studies have been undertaken in these sections, both patients and therapists report about a positive effect in many cases.

Dobos of the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, explains for example, that leech therapy could have a positive effect on arthrosis in the knee. “Just because there are more studies in orthodox medicine this does not mean that orthodox medicine is better than naturopathic treatment” is the opinion from many experts in this area. They justify this statement with the fact that less money is invested in studies of natural therapy and that clinical research methods are limited when it comes down to natural therapy.

Despite the mentioned positive aspects which naturopathic treatment can achieve in rheumatic treatment, they always should be understood as complementary medicine. Depending on the level of disease long-lasting drugs are essential for patients with rheumatic diseases – despite many secondary effects. If the diagnosis is clear and standardized therapy practices are being applied to a patient, there are no objections to use natural therapy in agreement to a doctor. However, the patient should not make an inopportune financial effort.

There exists still much controversy about the question if alternative healing methods which do not underlie scientific concepts are effective. Bach flower therapy for example is based upon the idea to rebalance disharmoniously frames of mind and hence influence organic diseases indirectly. Unlike Schüßler’s cell salts which are said to balance impaired hormonal balance. For critics these methods are simply placebos. Answering the question why many people favour them nevertheless, Dobos says: „Perhaps human beings have self-regulating forces we cannot explain scientifically.”

Simone Heimann