Arthritis: Profiteering from Pain

According to the magazine article, Lucy was forty-eight when the pain of rheumatoid arthritis struck. She didn’t take it lying down. The usual regimen of non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs, cortisone and methotrexate provided temporary relief but the side effects were bothersome. So she decided to go the “alternative” route. Whole hog. The first practitioner she saw told her to cut that out. The hog that is. Also beef, dairy products, potatoes, tomatoes, alcohol, sugar, wheat, citrus fruits, margarine, eggs and all packaged and refined foods. Why? Because these foods had shown a positive response in “applied kinesiology” testing. The therapist had measured the muscle strength in Lucy’s arm after exposing her to these foods and had determined that they were “too harsh for her and were sources of allergic reactions.” If only allergy testing were that easy! Since the elimination diet provided no relief, Lucy sought out other “health care providers.”

What followed was a truly amazing array of treatments and dietary schemes. There were liver detoxifiers, intestinal detoxifiers, anti-parasite formulas, live bacteria treatments, pancreas extracts, chelated minerals and organic juice regimens. Then there were the herbal preparations. Everything from devil’s claw and celery extract to prickly ash and black current seed oil. Specifics were determined by a battery of tests which included Essential Metabolics Analysis, Adrenal Stress Analysis, Intestinal pH Analysis, Digestive Stool Analysis and Darkfield microscopy. She underwent acupuncture, tried homeopathy, fasted for days, ate clay, gulped algae, had her amalgam fillings removed, got vitamin B-12 shots and took huge doses of folic acid and vitamin C. I suspect if there were a Guinness record for most treatments tried for arthritis, Lucy would have set it.

I think it goes without saying that most of these treatments are on a very shaky scientific footing. But that of course does not prevent desperate people from trying them. History has shown that when scientific medicine leaves a vacuum, a host of “alternative practitioners” rush in to fill the void. They claim to have the answers which have somehow mysteriously eluded mainstream researchers. Such as the benefits of the “Harmony Token.” This is a colored disk that’s worn around the neck and which “resupplies minerals, vitamins and amino acids with the color that has been stripped away by exposure to electromagnetic radiation.” It seems our body doesn’t recognize these colorless substances and as a consequence our immune sytem is weakened. The Harmony Disk utilizes 2800 colors “to rebuild and repair the body at the cellular level and allows victims of rheumatoid arthritis to resume normal lives.” There are testinomials galore. Harmony, we are told, even improves gas mileage and reduces emmissions in cars. It makes racehorses run faster. It cures migraines. It also makes me wonder about people’s sanity.

Lucy could have also tried “The Incredible Proven Natural Miracle Cure That Medical Science Has Never Revealed.” Let me reveal the treatment that is the subject of this amazing book. Urine. Your own. All you have to do is take 1-2 drops a day. Watch the arthritis disappear. In extreme cases it has to be injected. If you’re queezy about consuming urine, how about blood? “Autohemotherapy” involves taking three quarters of a cup of blood from a patient’s vein, mixing it in a copper bowl with one quarter cup of honey and one quarter cup of lemon juice. Just stir and drink. And there even seems to be some scientific backing here. The Indian Journal of Orthopedics reports that a majority of arthritis patients in a study showed reduction in pain and increase in handgrip strength. Maybe they were just afraid to admit that they hadn’t improved lest they be subjected to more of the same treatment.

Then there is snake therapy which is popular in some areas of China. The gall bladder of a living snake is removed and dropped into wine to make an arthritis cure. Most highly prized are venomous snakes like the king cobra. This treatment has an unusual side effect. Escape of the creatures from shops poses a real problem. I guess seeing your mates being stretched and cut open while still alive provides a certain motivation to get out of there.

This form of snake oil may be a hard sell in North America. But “Jogging in a Jug” has become a huge business. It was the brain child of an Alabama farmer who was going to lose his farm and needed an idea. It came in the form of his grandmother’s recipe for arthritis. Apple cider vinegar! He himself suffered from arthritis and found he improved when he drank the stuff. His financial situation also improved. At least until the U.S. government decided that according to the claims he was making he was selling an unapproved new drug. Thousands of bottles were destroyed and the company was required to send out letters to consumers apprising them of the situation. Jogging in a Jug is not the only apple cider product for which miraculous claims are made. And they all have impressive sounding testimonials. What they don’t have, however, is scientific evidence. Such products cannot be taken seriously until they are studied seriously.

In some cases attempts for serious study of unusual arthritis treatments have been made. Such as the traditional “raisins in gin” remedy. The idea is to soak the raisins in gin for seven days and eat nine daily. A researcher at the University of North Texas has looked into this and claims that people get significant relief. He uses 90 proof gin and has discovered that soaking the raisins longer makes no difference but increasing the dose does. Maybe it’s due to anti-inflammatory compounds in the juniper berries used to make the gin. Or maybe it’s the alcohol. He is now up to 36 gin soaked raisins a day and claims patients feel much happier. I bet they do.

They also say they feel better when they wear copper bracelets. Could there be somethingto this? A study in Australia using anodized aluminum for placebo control examined copper bracelets. There was a statistically significant difference in relief from arthritis in those wearing the bracelets. Weighing the bracelets revealed that about 13 mg of copper dissolved in per month, meaning that if this were all absorbed, the copper level of the body would be increased over the usual amount. Since many enzymes involved in tissue maintenance require copper to carry out their work, a tenuous argument on behalf of copper bracelets on a hand can be made. On the other hand, we have no evidence that oral copper supplements help arthritis.

We’ve still not reached the bottom of that huge barrel filled with alternative remedies for arthritis. We’ve not broached aromatherapy, imagery (“just picture the pain flowing out of your body into the nearest creek”), arnica poultices, Chinese Thunder God Vine (don’t ask), or bee sting therapy (it seems that bee keepers who get stung an average of 2000 times a year have less arthritis-maybe they just don’t notice it.) We haven’t looked at borage seed oil, boron, ground ginger, boswelia, bromolain, reflexology, DMSO or the Ayurvedic treatment which involves taking “yogaraj guggulu” three time a day. We haven’t looked at these because scientists haven’t looked at them enough to come to any reasonable conclusions. And that I’m afraid is the case for so many of the arthritis treatments out there. They offer hope to people and often not much else. Still, we keep looking.

Maybe the answer will come from gamma linolenic acid in evening primrose oil or from drinking orange juice laced with purified chicken cartilage. Maybe the secret lies in a blend of tea and cherry juice. Or maybe there just is no secret. Although Lucy would debate that. After three years of taking virtually everything under the sun, including 30 minutes of sun each day, she claims to be free of arthritis. Go figure.

Print | posted on Monday, May 14, 2012 11:50 AM

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