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02-02-2012 | Immunology | Article

Herbal medicine ‘unjustified’ for osteoarthritis


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MedWire News: There is little conclusive evidence to justify the use of herbal medicines for the relief of symptoms in people with osteoarthritis, concludes a review in the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin.

The comprehensive literature review of nine herbal remedies found the evidence for efficacy "at best equivocal or unconvincing" while raising safety concerns for several products.

"Herbal medicines can have significant pharmacologic actions, and so can cause unwanted effects and have potentially dangerous interactions with other medicines (both herbal and conventional)," the article states.

The review, which was undertaken by an independent, anonymous expert panel, focused on nine herbal medicines that are traditionally used to treat the symptoms of osteoarthritis: avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, cat's claw, devil's claw, Indian frankincense, ginger, nettle, rosehip, turmeric, and willow bark.

For each compound, the authors searched the published literature for clinical studies and meta-analyses addressing the efficacy and/or safety of the medicine in people with osteoarthritis.

These products are "generally under-researched, and information on potentially significant herb-drug interactions is limited," they remark.

In terms of products containing avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, Indian frankincense, and rosehip, the available clinical trial data "suggest some efficacy, and these herbs appear to cause few unwanted effects, but more robust data are needed," they conclude.

Meanwhile, although UK regulators have assigned "Traditional Herbal Registrations" for several herbal medicinal products containing devil's claw for rheumatic symptoms, "the trial results for this herb are equivocal," they write.

Finally, they say there is "little conclusive evidence" of benefit from any of the other herbs.

The reviewers conclude: "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.

"Healthcare professionals should routinely ask patients with osteoarthritis if they are taking any herbal products."

By Joanna Lyford

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