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Little evidence to back herbal remedies for osteoarthritis

There is little conclusive evidence that herbal medicines are effective in managing the symptoms of osteoarthritis, according to a review.

The Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin analysed past studies of herbal medications and found that few analysed specifically the extent to which they assisted patients with osteoarthritis. This is despite the widespread use in this patient group of herbal products such as cat’s claw, ginger, nettle, turmeric and willow bark.

Furthermore, the authors of the review identify several design flaws and limitations within existing studies, such as small sample sizes and variations in the chemical make-up of the same herb, which affected the validity of the results.

The existing studies have generally shown that herbal medications can be of benefit, however, the review warns that taking herbal medications may in fact be detrimental to a patient’s health, particularly if they suffer from other conditions such as diabetes.

These treatments may produce unwanted side effects and may interfere with other medicines, with potentially dangerous consequences.

The report states: “Herbal medicines have traditionally been used for the relief of osteoarthritis symptoms. However, there is a lack of licensed herbal medicinal products on the market for such symptoms, and none specifically licensed for osteoarthritis.

  • Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (2012) 50: 8-12

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