News May 2004 Issue

In The News: 05/04

Sound Fishy? Cod-Liver Oil Can Delay Cartilage Damage
Maybe your mother knew something, after all. Cod-liver oil—that nasty stuff she made you take as a child—has been shown to slow the destruction of joint cartilage in osteoarthritis patients, potentially reducing the need for joint-replacement surgery later in life. A study conducted at Cardiff University in Wales, U.K., shows that tissues from 86 percent of 25 patients awaiting joint replacement who took 2,000mg of cod-liver oil daily for three months had significantly reduced levels of the cartilage-destroying enzymes collagenase and aggrecanase. Said lead investigator Dr. Bruce Caterson, “By taking cod-liver oil, people are more likely to delay the onset of osteoarthritis and less likely to require joint replacement later.”

Precisely what it is in cod-liver oil that delivers this effect is unclear, but researchers suspect it’s the inflammation-fighting effects of omega-3 fatty acids, the primary components of cod-liver oil.

Though 25 subjects do not constitute a clinical trial, Dr. Caterson plans to organize a study of larger patient groups to prove his findings. The study nonetheless confirms what many natural-health experts have been saying for years. According to Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of Natural Prescriptions for Common Ailments, “People who take cod-liver oil have less inflammation because it supplies the essential fatty acids that turn down inflammation, so it’s good for the symptoms of arthritis.”

What to do about that nasty aftertaste? “Freeze the capsules and swallow them frozen with a meal,” Dr. Dean suggests, “and the fishy taste won’t repeat on you.”

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Pain Relief May Be All In Your Head
The mere expectation of pain relief—with no real treatment given—may itself reduce the symptoms of arthritis. This was the finding of two related studies, which examined, through the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the role that a placebo plays in the perception of pain. Researchers at the University of Michigan and Princeton University, each studying some two dozen volunteers, used MRI to map changes in blood flow in the brain. The volunteers were subjected to mild but occasionally painful electric shocks to their arm. When they were told an anti-pain cream had been applied to their arm, they rated the pain as less intense—and the pain circuits in their brain showed less activity.

The medical community has long recognized the power of a placebo to make patients feel better, but no one is sure why it works. The new studies provided the first evidence of how a placebo influences the brain’s pain pathways. Said one researcher, neurology expert Dr. Kenneth Casey, “We’ve shown what the old family doctor knew very well—that his interaction with the patient made a great difference in the effectiveness of whatever treatment he was giving.”

If you provide patients with the expectation that a drug or treatment will work, added Dr. Casey, you enhance the effect. On the other hand, if you provide a treatment with the caveat that it might not be effective, it is much less likely to be effective.

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Forteo Claimed To Extend Back-Pain Relief
Prevention of back pain in women with osteoporosis can last up to 18 months beyond the end of treatment with teriparatide, a new injectable hormone-based drug, brand-named Forteo, that is used to treat osteoporosis. In a follow-up study to a 2001 Fracture Prevention Trial conducted by Eli Lilly & Co., makers of the drug, significantly fewer patients taking termiparatide reported any degree of new or worsening back pain—and of those who did, pain severity was reduced. Said Dr. John Krege, senior clinical research physician at Eli Lilly and the study’s lead investigator, “To our knowledge, teriparatide is the first drug for osteoporosis to show benefits in preventing back pain.”

The findings were announced during the recent Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.