Arthritis is an inflammatory joint disease that affects about 54 million American adults. With one in four of those reporting severe joint pain, it is no surprise that the demand for joint health supplements is at an all-time high.
Some of these supplements claim to relieve arthritis pain, swelling, and stiffness. Others purport to prevent joint problems before they start. So, which can be trusted to perform as advertised on the packaging?
In this article, we will cover seven supplements with evidence-based benefits for joint health. We’ll also discuss factors associated with arthritis and the deterioration of joint health.
Joint Health and Arthritis
With age, our joints can lose flexibility and stiffen. The synovial fluid that lubricates the joints may decrease, and the cartilage between joints may begin to erode from wear and tear.
This gradual wearing away is known as osteoarthritis (OA), and it’s the most common form of arthritis.
Age isn’t the only risk factor for OA, however. Obesity and joint injury or overuse can also contribute to this arthritis type.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the second most common form, occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints. This often leads to swelling and inflammation. RA can arise at any age, though it most often begins between ages 30 and 60.
OA and RA are just two of more than 100 different types of arthritis.
Conventional treatment for arthritis will depend on the type, and aims to relieve symptoms such as pain and inflammation and improve joint movement. It may include drugs like:
- Analgesics (painkillers)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
- Biological response modifiers
But there’s also a wealth of supplements on the market claiming to beat arthritis pain and boost joint health overall.
7 Joint Health Supplements to Relieve Arthritis Symptoms
There are so many options available that it can be difficult to know where to begin. According to research, the following supplements may have benefits for joint health and arthritis symptoms.
Chondroitin is a substance found naturally in human cartilage. It contributes to its structure and elasticity, and helps cartilage retain nutrients and water.
Chondroitin could therefore protect against the cartilage degeneration seen with osteoarthritis, or help slow its progression.
Supplementary chondroitin can be taken as a tablet or capsule, and is typically made from the cartilage of sharks or bovine animals.
Numerous studies have examined chondroitin’s effects on osteoarthritis patients. A systematic review of 43 randomized controlled trials, including 9,110 people, on its efficacy in OA sufferers concluded that:
- More than half the people who took chondroitin saw their knee pain improve by 20%
- Chondroitin slowed down the narrowing of joint space after two years
- Chondroitin had a lower risk of negative side effects compared to placebo
Since results have previously been mixed, researchers recommended more high-quality studies for further investigation.
The most common dose of chondroitin is 800 to 1,200 milligrams (mg) per day.
Glucosamine is another key component of human joint cartilage. It supports healthy cartilage as the foundation for its growth and repair. It’s also found in lubricating joint fluid.
Glucosamine levels tend to decline with age, and this may be a factor in osteoarthritis development. Supplements available in pill form or as an injection are used to relieve joint pain and other OA symptoms.
Some research suggests glucosamine supplements can alleviate symptoms of knee osteoarthritis.
A study published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism in 2007 found that glucosamine sulfate was more effective than a placebo at treating knee OA symptoms.
For the study, 318 patients with moderately severe symptoms were given either 1,500 mg glucosamine sulfate, three grams acetaminophen, or a placebo daily for six months.
Meanwhile, a 2018 review of 18 recent studies concluded that glucosamine has favorable effects on knee OA pain. Researchers specifically said the results “suggest that clinicians should consider glucosamine as a supplement for patients with OA.”
Yet researchers aren’t exactly sure how the supplement works, and in some studies, the side effects have been worse than the initial arthritis symptoms.
Those with shellfish allergies should also avoid taking glucosamine. Supplements are often produced from crab, lobster, or shrimp shells.
Omega-3 fatty acids are nutrients found in foods like fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds. They’re an integral part of cell membranes, and have anti-inflammatory properties that could benefit many chronic diseases.
These essential fats cannot be made by the body. They must come from food or dietary supplements like fish oil.
As arthritis is marked by inflammation, many sufferers take fish oil supplements to combat inflammatory symptoms such as swelling and stiffness.
According to studies, fish oil may be particularly beneficial for rheumatory arthritis patients.
One meta-analysis of 42 trials found that fish oil decreases joint pain in RA patients. The pain-relieving effects were believed to result from the oil’s high concentration of omega-3s docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
The oil was not considered effective for osteoarthritis pain in the analysis, however.
SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine) is a chemical that occurs naturally in the body.
The liver produces SAMe from the amino acid methionine, and it helps regulate immune function, maintain cell membranes, and produce and maintain other bodily chemicals.
SAMe in supplement form has been shown to improve symptoms of osteoarthritis, including joint pain.
In a meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials, researchers found that SAMe was as effective as NSAIDs at relieving pain and improving joint function in knee or hip osteoarthritis patients.
One 2004 study comparing SAMe to “Celebrex,” an anti-inflammatory drug, showed that both similarly improved OA joint pain after two months’ treatment.
Turmeric is a popular South Asian spice containing the active compound curcumin. In addition to giving turmeric its bright yellow color, research shows curcumin acts as an anti-inflammatory agent.
The chemical may specifically block the activity of nuclear factor kappa B (NK-κB), which regulates inflammatory responses.
As a result, turmeric supplements are commonly used to reduce pain and swelling associated with arthritis.
Several studies have found that turmeric extract can effectively treat arthritis symptoms. A 2016 systematic study review showed that it decreases joint pain and other inflammatory arthritis symptoms as well as ibuprofen and diclofenac sodium, an arthritis NSAID.
As the studies reviewed featured smaller sample sizes, larger studies are needed to confirm these results.
6. Avocado-Soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU)
Avocado-soybean unsaponifiables (ASU) are an extract of the avocado and soybean.
Comprising a blend of one-third avocado oil and two-thirds soybean oil, ASU may block pro-inflammatory agents and thwart the deterioration of joint cartilage. It might also encourage cartilage repair.
In clinical studies, ASU has been shown to decrease osteoarthritis pain and stiffness and improve joint function, compared with a placebo.
A three-year study of patients with hip OA found that the supplement reduced the disease’s progression rate by 20%. Other studies found that ASU decreased NSAID use over a three-month period in those with hip and knee OA.
7. Boswellia (Indian Frankincense)
Boswellia is a herbal extract derived from the Boswellia serrata tree. Its active constituents, called boswellic acids, may work as natural anti-inflammatories, potentially helping to reduce inflammation and, in turn, symptoms of both OA and RA.
In a 2008 study, published in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy, findings showed that a boswellia extract (“5-Loxin”) significantly reduced OA pain and improved function after just seven days. It also appeared to limit cartilage breakdown in OA patients.
Research further indicates that boswellia may halt the autoimmune process, a significant factor in rheumatoid arthritis.
A study out of India, published in The Journal of Rheumatology, found that a plant extract formula containing boswellia significantly improved joint swelling in patients with chronic RA.
Ask Your Doctor about Joint Health Supplements
Although these supplements show promise for relieving arthritis symptoms, they can come with side effects and drug interactions. That is why it’s important to discuss any new supplement regimen with your healthcare provider first.
Moreover, do not stop taking any prescribed medication without your doctor’s approval.
Lastly, dietary supplements do not undergo the same strict level of testing from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as prescription meds. Be sure to purchase your supplements from a high-quality, trusted manufacturer.
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