There are many supplements on the market that claim to support joint health and offer relief from joint pain. While there is no single supplement that can guarantee joint repair, some supplements have shown promising results in providing symptomatic relief from pain related to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Glucosamine and chondroitin
Glucosamine and chondroitin are commonly used together in supplements. Both are part of the cartilage that lines the joints and prevents bones from rubbing against each other. There have been mixed results regarding their efficacy:
- The National Institutes of Health conducted a study on people with knee osteoarthritis (OA) and found that glucosamine improved symptoms such as pain and function, but the effect was similar to that of a placebo.
- Another 2016 international trial found that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin reduced pain, stiffness, and swelling in knee OA, similar to the painkiller celecoxib.
- According to the Mayo Clinic, glucosamine sulfate, with or without chondroitin sulfate, may provide pain relief in knee OA.
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids that are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. According to a 2017 review article, omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help reduce joint swelling, stiffness, and pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). People with RA can expect to cut down on their frequency of taking painkillers by taking fish oil supplements.
SAM-e is a natural compound that exists in the body. Some studies report that it can be as effective as painkillers such as ibuprofen and celecoxib, minus their side effects. The SAM-e supplement may be more useful for people who have depression and OA together because it exerts mild anti-depressant effects.
Avocado-soybean unsaponifiables (ASU)
ASU is a combination of 1/3 avocado oil with 2/3 soybean oil. According to a meta-analysis, ASU may help improve symptoms of hip and knee OA and reduce the need for painkillers.
Other joint supplements
Limited research has been conducted on other supplements for joint repair, including:
- Ginger or Zingiber officinale
- Cat’s claw or Uncaria tomentosa
- Gamma linolenic acid
- Pine bark extract
Are there risks involved in using joint supplements?
Although most supplements are natural, they can cause side effects in some people, or there may be a risk of interaction with some medications. For example, fish oil supplements can interact with blood-thinning medication such as warfarin and enhance the medication’s blood-thinning effect.
Unlike medications, supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Since all ingredients may not be mentioned on the label, it’s important to purchase supplements from a reputable company. You can even ask your doctor for recommendations regarding supplement brands.
If you are planning to take supplements for arthritis, you can consult a physician practicing integrative medicine. However, always let your primary physician or orthopedic surgeon know. Never substitute your ongoing medical therapy with these supplements without their approval, as this can aggravate your symptoms.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The NIH Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT). J Pain Palliat Care Pharmacother. 2008;22(1):39-43. PMID: 19062354.
Cameron M, Chrubasik S. Oral herbal therapies for treating osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 May 22;2014(5):CD002947.
Prince, M., and M. Bukhari. "AB0375 A systematic literature review of omega 3 in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis." (2018): 1357-1357.
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