Arthritis Medications

Arthritis Medications Provide
Relief and Possible Dangers

A holistic medicine perspective on arthritis medications reminds me of the opening lines to Charles Dickens famous novel, A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Why do I say that? Compared even to 30 years ago when I started medical school, the prescription options for people suffering with arthritis are so much more effective. Crippling pain, daily stiffness and limited motion no longer have to be the burden they used to be to arthritis sufferers. And the options now include medications which are not so hard on the stomach, so we are seeing less stomach irritation and bleeding than we used to when people were limited to high doses of aspirin. Prescription options evolved to include the so-called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen), and then another step forward with the COX-2 inhibitors (such as celecoxib). The belief that the COX-2 inhibitors were the next great advance in arthritis medications stemmed from their ability to tamp down inflammation in the joints while not irritating the stomach. Unfortunately, the story of the COX-2 inhibitors coming to market was a sad example of big pharmaceutical companies trumpeting their product’s advantages (and its potential for billions in sales) while ignoring or even suppressing some negative data about unexpected side effects.


The beginning of the downfall of the COX-2 inhibitors was brought to light in a 2005 article in none other than the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Topol’s article in JAMA followed an announcement in 2004 that a large major research trial using celecoxib had been stopped prematurely because of excess numbers of cardiovascular deaths, heart attacks and strokes in those receiving the drug. Though celecoxib is still available and widely prescribed, its sister medication (produced by a different company) rofecoxib was withdrawn voluntarily from the market along with criticism of the FDA over failure to address safety concerns. That case will apparently drag on through the courts for years before being resolved.


In the meantime, what is my recommendation as a doctor practicing holistic medicine? The precautionary principle applies here: why knowingly expose yourself to a possible risk (even if the chances of a serious adverse event are low) when you have other options? And you do have other options. So while the tale of arthritis medications, specifically the COX-2 inhibitors, is a “best of times and worst of times” story, I think I can take you to a “best of times” solution without the downside.

Consider all the holistic pain relief options at your disposal. These include the reduction of joint inflammation through diet, the judicious use of anti-inflammatory supplements such as fish oil, and herbal medications. Mind-body approaches such as hypnosis for pain reduction can also be very effective and of course safe. Start with the safest and least toxic options available to you, and consider carefully before making a decision about arthritis medications.

To your health and wellness,


Robert Pendergrast, M.D.

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