Vioxx: An Alternative for Arthritis Pain?

I was taking Vioxx for arthritis pain until the drug was withdrawn from the market. Now I’m nervous about taking any of the similar drugs. Can you recommend a natural alternative?

– November 11, 2004

Vioxx, a widely prescribed drug for arthritis and pain, was withdrawn from the market on Sept. 30, 2004, after results of a study showed double the normal risks of heart attack and stroke among people taking it. All told, the study found that 15 out of every 1,000 people on Vioxx developed a heart attack or stroke per year during the three-year duration of the study. Among study participants who took a placebo instead of Vioxx there was only half that number of heart attacks or strokes.

First you should know that Vioxx provided about the same level of pain relief you would get from aspirin or ibuprofen. Its advantage over these common pain pills was a lower risk of ulcers or gastrointestinal bleeding. Other prescription drugs similar to Vioxx remain on the market and, so far, have not shown the same risks (but they have not yet been subjected to as much scrutiny as Vioxx). In a New York Times op ed piece, Eric J. Topol, MD, chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, warned that these other drugs have not been tested on patients who have heart disease.

Fortunately, there are natural alternatives that can offer relief for the pain associated with the joint inflammation that occurs with arthritis:

  • Ginger: Powdered extracts of ginger in capsules, as well as alcohol-based extracts at health-food stores, have an anti-inflammatory effect when taken regularly for osteoarthritis. Dried ginger is a more effective anti-inflammatory agent than fresh ginger.
  • Turmeric: This yellow spice that colors curry and American mustard also has anti-inflammatory properties. An active component of turmeric called curcumin is available in health-food stores, as are whole extracts. Follow the dosage directions on the label.

In addition, I recommend that everyone with osteoarthritis read "The Arthritis Cure" by Jason Theodosakis, MD, Brenda Adderly and Barry Fox, PhD (St. Martin’s Press, 1997) and consider the advice about using glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate. The suggested daily dose is 1,500 mg of glucosamine sulfate with or without 1,200 mg of chondroitin sulfate.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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