Improved arthritic knee health in a pilot RCT of phytotherapy
Hamblin, L., Laird, A., Parkes, E. and Walker, A. F. (2008) Improved arthritic knee health in a pilot RCT of phytotherapy. Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, 128 (5). pp. 255-262. ISSN 1466-4240
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1177/1466424008092798
Although practitioner-prescribed 'western' herbal medicine (phytotherapy) is a popular complementary therapy in the UK, no clinical studies have been reported on patient-orientated outcomes. The objective of this pilot study was to investigate the effects of phytotherapy on symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee. A previous study of Chinese herbal medicine for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association,(1) acted as a model in the development of the protocol of this investigation. Twenty adults, previously diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee, were recruited from two Inner London GP practices into this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, pilot study carried out in a primary-care setting. All subjects were seen in consultation three times by a herbal practitioner who was blinded to the randomization coding. Each subject was prescribed treatment and given lifestyle advice according to usual practice: continuation of conventional medication where applicable, healthy-eating advice and nutrient supplementation, Individualized herbal medicine was prescribed for each patient, but only dispensed for those randomized to active treatment - the remainder were supplied with a placebo. At baseline and outcome (after ten weeks of treatment), subjects completed a food frequency questionnaire and the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) knee health and Measure Yourself Outcome Profile (MYMOP) wellbeing questionnaires. Subjects completing the study per protocol (n = 14) reported an increased intake of wholegrain foods (p = 0.045) and oily fish (p = 0.039) compared to baseline, but no increase in fruit and vegetables and dairy products intakes. There was no difference in the primary outcome measure of knee health assessed as the difference in the mean response (baseline-week 10) in WOMAC score between the two treatment groups. However, there was, compared with baseline, improvement in the active group (n = 9) for the mean WOMAC stiffness sub-score at week 5 (p = 0.035) and week 10 (p = 0.060) but not in the placebo group (n = 5). Furthermore, for the active, but not the placebo group, the mean WOMAC total and sub-scores all showed clinically significant improvement (>= 20%) in knee symptoms at weeks 5 and 10 compared with baseline. Moreover, the mean MYMOP symptom 2 sub-score, mostly relating to osteoarthritis (OA), showed significant improvement at week 5 (p = 0.02) and week 10 (p = 0.008) compared with baseline for the active, but not for the placebo group. This pilot study showed that herbal medicine prescribed for the individual by a herbal practitioner resulted in improvement of symptoms of OA of the knee.