Joint Health Supplements – Definition
If you or your family has a history of obesity, smoking, arthritis, or previous injuries such as anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) tears, you may be at risk for developing the number one debilitating joint disease, arthritis.1
In today’s society, the impact of joint pain is often underestimated. The day to day limitations make joint diseases one of the most immobilizing and costly ailments in North America.2,3
Non-traumatic joint disorders and arthritis rank in the top five most costly conditions among American adults with an estimated $156 billion annually in lost wages and medical expenses.3 According to the Arthritis Alliance of Canada, up to 50% of people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis will be unable to work within 10 years, if the disease is left untreated.2
But proactive self-management can make all the difference. If you’re struggling with joint pain, or at a high risk of developing joint disease, it may be time to consider taking a joint supplement to help prevent everyday aches and inflammation.
Supplements for joint pain harness the power of naturally occurring chemicals found in the cartilage, ligaments and fluids surrounding joints to reduce inflammation, pain or stiffness.4 Taking joint supplements in addition to a healthy lifestyle, can help promote joint health and provide additional joint support.
With hundreds of products on the market, it’s time to uncover the truth behind which joint supplements are worth your time and money.
Do Joint Supplements Work?
In their 2011 report, the Arthritis Alliance of Canada notes that symptom management is an important method of intervention for millions of individuals dealing with joint disease.1 In serious joint conditions such as arthritis, doctors have still not isolated a direct cause, environmental trigger or gene predisposition.5 While there is no way to completely prevent joint pain, you can reduce your risk by taking supplements that compliment healthy lifestyle choices.
In clinical trials, several different joint supplements have proven to be an effective tool in joint pain management when compared to a placebo. Supplements for joint pain are believed to restore cartilage surrounding joints, provide joint lubrication to reduce friction and help reduce inflammation.4
It’s important to note, arthritis is an informal way of labeling various joint diseases or chronic joint pain.1
With more than 100 types of arthritis each with unique symptoms or risk factors, the efficacy of a joint supplement will depend on the type of joint pain/disease and the supplement used, including for how long and in what dose.5
How to relieve Joint Pain – When to Use a Joint Supplement
As we age, the collagen and fluid between our joints can slowly break down, resulting in increased joint friction that causes pain, inflammation, swelling or decreased mobility.4 Experiencing pain in your joints may signal the development of a larger joint issue.5
Chronic joint pain or arthritis is commonly regarded as only an “old person’s” disease. While the risk of developing arthritis increases with age, arthritis is the number one reported disability in the United States and Canada, with more than 50 million adults living with diagnosed arthritis.2,3Of this, two-thirds of individuals currently living with arthritis are under 65 years old, including approximately 300,000 American children.3
According to the Arthritis Alliance of Canada, one of the most effective interventions for arthritis (predominantly rheumatoid and osteoarthritis) is early diagnosis and adequate pain management.2 Many patients with preliminary or moderate arthritis do not qualify for joint replacement surgery or more invasive treatments, forcing individuals to live with chronic pain. This may leave patients to determine which supplements for arthritis will best relieve joint pain on their own. Thankfully, effective supplements for joint pain and stiffness are widely available and can be purchased over the counter.
As the most common type of joint disease, osteoarthritis is the leading cause of musculoskeletal disability in elderly populations. The disease is defined by its progressive degeneration of articular cartilage, which reduces the ability of joint tissues to properly repair themselves. Symptoms are often experienced in the knee and include increased joint stiffness, joint pain, joint discomfort or decreased mobility.2,6
With an estimated of 27 million Americans effected by the disease, supplements for osteoarthritis remain in high demand.6
Over the years, your knees take the brunt of supporting body weight and reducing impact from physical movement. The gradual degeneration of the cartilage can lead to thinning and increased friction between bones.7 This compression, combined with overuse or injuries can lead to knee issues and have individuals searching for knee pain relief products.
Knee joint supplements help increase levels of natural chemicals found in the cartilage surrounding joints. If you experience symptoms of knee osteoarthritis such as swelling, pain or stiffness leading to difficulties walking or getting out of chairs and bathtubs, taking a supplement for knee joints may help manage these signs of illness.
For athletes, particularly those who run or engage in twisting motions, it may be avantagious to introduce a complimentary and alternative (CAM) treatment to help prevent injuries or promote overall joint health. CAM treatments can be used alongside standard medical care to benefit the patient’s mind, body and soul. Therapies may include acupuncture, special diets, natural remedies or meditation.28
Forms of Joint Support Supplements
Joint health supplements come in a variety of formats to appeal to a wide range of customer preferences. Liquid joint supplements, joint pills, chewable soft gels or topical creams can all be purchased as over the counter drugs.8 Different formats may make joint supplements more accessible or easier to take for some users.
Natural Anti Inflammatory Supplements
Due to negative side effects or potential drug interactions, the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or aspirin, may not be an effective tool for everyone in managing joint pain. Natural joint remedies have been utilized for thousands of years to help reduce pain and improve quality of life.
Natural anti inflammatory supplements help block inflammatory pathways, working in a similar way to NSAIDs.3 Here are three of the most leading natural joint supplements for joint pain management.
As naturally occurring compound, S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) can readily be found in almost all tissue or fluid in the body. While its functions are numerous, it primarily assists in the breakdown of chemicals, cell membrane maintenance or supporting the immune system.9
In a 2009 double-blind, multicenter, randomized and double dummy clinical trial, researchers examined the effect of SAMe compared to non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in patients with OA. Results from the eight-week study indicated that (SAMe) was as effective as nabumetone, a NSAIDs drug in self-management of pain intensity.10
In a meta-analysis of several well-designed clinical studies, researchers investigated the impact of SAMe supplements on patients with osteoarthritis. Against placebo groups, SAMe proved to be a useful reducing inflammation, joint swelling, morning stiffness and improving functionality. Findings across 11 studies confirmed that SAMe is as effective as NSAIDs (ibuprofen, aspirin) in relieving pain and reducing arthritis-induced disability. Further, patients taking a SAMe supplement reported less adverse reactions than those on a NSAID pain management plan.11
Omega-3 EFAs (Fish Oil)
Omega-3 fatty acids are a healthy variety of long chain polyunsaturated fat. It can be derived from food sources such as cold-water fish, flaxseed and canola oil. Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 have been deemed essential fatty acids (EFAs), as they demonstrate anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting actions that contribute to overall good health.13
Fish oil supplements contain high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids have proven to be one of the most beneficial supplements for reducing inflammation in joints and reducing coronary artery disease.4
The active ingredients in in fish oil docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) act as precursors which promote the production of the anti-inflammatory agent, prostaglandin E3. This agent actively works to inhibit pathways and substances that cause inflammation in the body.
Read more: Omega 3 article
A meta-analysis of 10 clinical studies evaluated the overall efficacy of fish oil supplementation. Across the trials, users supplemented between 2.9-6 grams of fish oil daily for 3 months to alleviate pain and discomfort. Data suggests decreases in the duration of morning stiffness and number of tender joints experienced in long-term rheumatoid arthritis patients. Findings also found a decrease in the intensity of joint pain and need for these patients to take NSAIDs for pain.14
Ascorbic Acid, commonly known as Vitamin C, stimulates the synthesis of collagen and functions as a highly effective antioxidant to protect the body against damage from potentially harmful free radicals.
In a clinical cohort study, patients were given 120-200 mg of Vitamin C daily as a natural anti inflammatory supplements to reduce osteoarthritis symptoms and promote joint health. The research suggests that supplementing Vitamin C reduced the risk of osteoarthritis progression by three times.11 Researchers noted the reduced potential for knee pain, calling for further research to evaluate the potentially effective knee pain supplement.
Home Remedies for Arthritis
With millions of individuals living with arthritis, many seek at home remedies to ease daily aches and pains.
As the number of patients with chronic joint pain continue to rise, so do the number of claims for miraculous home remedies. Some of the most referenced natural remedies for osteoarthritis include: Boswellia (Indian frankincense), turmeric, Devil’s claw (root), green tea and bark from white willow. Currently, the preliminary research of these natural ingredients for arthritis is too small or inconsistent to put forth recommendations for larger populations.15
Without good evidence, the effectiveness, risks and possible drug interactions of these herbs for arthritis remain unknown. Further, an increasing amount of unsupported information is also being published online, detailing odd home remedies for arthritis pain. Many of these treatments lack scientific evidence. Advice such as consuming raw garlic, drinking potato juice or consuming gin-soaked raisins should be taken with a grain of salt.
Patients should also exercise caution when seeking alternative homeopathic treatments. In a British clinical study, researchers sought to evaluate the efficacy of homeopathic supplements for joint pain. Researchers utilized one of the most prominent homeopaths in Britain to individualize the herbs for each patient to help produce better results.
After six months, the data collected demonstrated negative results for patients who used the natural treatment for arthritis in comparison to the placebo group. Moreover, results across several of the scales and indexes showed that mean pain scores were significantly lower in placebo groups.16,17 In simple terms, for this trial taking nothing was more effective for joint support than taking the natural joint medicine.17
Popular Joint Support Ingredients
Recognized as the most popular joint supplements, glucosamine and chondroitin rank as two of the best-selling ingredients in natural health care, with sales exceeding $753 million in the United States in 2012 alone.18,19
Glucosamine is a naturally occurring amino sugar in the human body. It’s found in the fluid surrounding joints and acts as a precursor for several chemicals which contribute to building ligaments, cartilage and tendons that incase joints.23
In the body, joints are cushioned by cartilage and fluid. In individuals with joint disease, this cartilage becomes worn down and thinner, resulting in joint friction, stiffness, inflammation or pain.6
Glucosamine may appear in several variations such as glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, and N-acetyl-glucosamine. While similar in chemical properties, the variations may not have the same results when taken as a supplement.23,24 Glucosamine sulfate can be derived from natural or synthetic sources and is also found in the shells of shellfish. It is most commonly used in clinical studies.6
In an observational study, 600 participants with knee osteoarthritis were instructed to take glucosamine supplements or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for 24 months to evaluate the efficacy of each. Those who supplemented with glucosamine developed less cartilage loss in medial central plateau of the knee, when compared to the other treatment group.20,21
Further, in a randomized, double-blind control study researchers compared the use of ibuprofen and glucosamine sulfate tablets on patients with temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis (TJO) for three months. Of the users that experienced a minimum of 20% decline in functional pain, patients supplementing with glucosamine for joints demonstrated even greater reductions in everyday pain when compared to the ibuprofen group.22
Taking glucosamine for joints may be also beneficial when taken long term. Beyond reducing inflammation and pain, glucosamine sulfate has been noted in one clinical study to delay further breakdown of joints in patients with osteoarthritis.23
What is glucosamine chondroitin?
In dietary supplements, glucosamine is often combined with other compounds to maximize abruption or benefits to the user.23
Chondroitin is a naturally occurring molecule that’s concentrated in the cartilage surrounding joints. The molecule helps maintain healthy cartilage by absorbing water to support the connective tissue. It may also be a building block for cartilage production and inhibits enzymes that wear down the connective tissue.26 It’s used in the treatment of osteoarthritis, HIV/AIDS, heart disease and muscle soreness.25
While evidence is still ongoing on the efficacy of glucosamine chondroitin for a wide range of joint diseases, some studies have shown taking a glucosamine chondroitin supplement for 3-4 months increased joint function and reduced pain in patients with the most common joint disease, osteoarthritis.25,26
In 2006, the largest glucosamine chondroitin trial was conducted by the National Institutes of Health, with 1,600 individuals with OA located in the knee. The results did not show significant pain reduction for all participants, but did reduce pain among those with moderate-to-severe OA in the knee.26
Joint Pain Supplement Side Effects
Users may experience minor side effects from consuming joint supplements. These will vary with the type of supplement, dosage and/or if the supplement is taken with any additional medications. Side effects from joint pain supplements may include:27
- Gas, bloating, or stomach cramps
- Nausea or heartburn
- Upset stomach, diarrhea or constipation
- Swelling in your ankles or feet
- Skin irritation
- Puffy eyelids
Glucosamine and chondroitin may interact with other drugs. Interactions have been reported when taken with blood thinners such as Warfarin.15 Individuals allergic to shellfish should consult with their doctor before taking glucosamine as it is derived from crustaceans.
GNC Joint Supplements and Other Retailers
Individuals can easily purchase high-quality joint support supplements at reputable supplement retailers such as GNC, Vitamin Shoppe or Bodybuilding.com.. Affordable, over the counter joint supplements can also be readily purchased at your local supermarket or pharmacy. Shop online or in-store for quality supplements to maintain joint support.
For exclusive information on today’s leading joint health supplements, read our in-depth Supplement Analyst Buying Guide.
Joint Supplement Reviews
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- Arthritis Foundation. (n.d.). What is Arthritis? Retrieved September 14, 2016 from Arthritis Foundation. (n.d.). Arthritis Facts. Retrieved September 14, 2016 from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/what-is-arthritis.php
- The Arthritis Alliance of Canada. (2011, October 27). The Impact of Arthritis in Canada: Today and Over the next 30 years. Retrieved September 14, 2016 from http://www.arthritisalliance.ca/en/
- Arthritis Foundation. (n.d.). Arthritis Facts. Retrieved September 14, 2016 from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/arthritis-statistics-facts.php
- Bost, J., Maroon, A., & Maroon, J. (2010). Natural anti-inflammatory agents for pain relief. Surgical Neurology International, 1(1), 80. doi:10.4103/2152-7806.73804
- Arthritis Foundation. (n.d). How to Prevent Arthritis. Retrieved September 12, 2016 from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/arthritis-prevention.php
- Consumer Reports. (2013, August). The facts about joint supplements. Retrieved September 15, 2016 from http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2013/10/facts-about-joint-supplements/index.htm
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. (2016, May). Handout on health: Osteoarthritis. Retreieved September 15, 2016 from http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Osteoarthritis/default.asp#pic_1
- GNC. (n.d.). Joint Support Supplements. Retrieved September 12, 2016 from http://www.gnc.com/Vitamins/Specialty-Supplements/Joint-Support-Supplements/family.jsp?page=1&categoryId=97995216&size=-1
- University of Maryland Medical Center. (2015, June 11). S-adenosylmethionine. Retrieved September 14, 2016 from https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/sadenosylmethionine
- Kim, J., Lee, E. Y., Koh, E., Cha, H., Yoo, B., Lee, C. K., … Song, Y. W. (2009). Comparative clinical trial of S-adenosylmethionine versus nabumetone for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis: An 8-week, multicenter, randomized, double-blind, double-dummy, Phase IV study in Korean patients. Clinical Therapeutics, 31(12), 2860-2872. doi:10.1016/j.clinthera.2009.12.016
- Soeken, K. L., Wen-Lin, L., Bausell, R. B., Agelli, M., & Berman, B. M. (2002). Safety and efficacy of S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) for osteoarthritis. Journal Of Family Practice, 51(5), 425-430.
- Wang, Y., Prentice, L.F., Vitetta, L., Wluka, A. E., & Cicuttini, F. M. (2004). The Effect of Nutritional Supplements on Osteoarthritis. Alternative Medicine Review, 9(3), 275-296.
- University of Maryland Medical Center. (2011, February 8). Omega-3 fatty acids. Retrieved September 14, 2016 from http://umm.edu/health/medical/ency/images/omega3-fatty-acids
- James, M., Proudman, S., & Cleland, L. (2010). Fish oil and rheumatoid arthritis: past, present and future. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 69(03), 316-323. doi:10.1017/s0029665110001564
- Harvard Medical School: Harvard Men’s Health Watch. “Joint support” supplements for arthritis. Retrieved September 12, 2016 from http://www.health.harvard.edu/alternative-and-complementary-medicine/supplements-for-rheumatoid-arthritis
- Fisher, P., & Scott D. L. (2001). A randomized controlled trial of homeopathy in rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatology, 40,1052–1055.
- Ernest, E. (2002, March). Homoeopathic remedies not efficacious for rheumatoid arthritis. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 7, 20–21. doi:10.1211/fact.2002.00015
- Creaky joints top supplement category. (2008). Functional Ingredients, (78), 58.
- Consumer Reports. (2013, August). The facts about joint supplements: of the 16 products we tested, seven didn’t contain all that they claimed. Retrieved September 13, 2016 from http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2013/10/facts-about-joint-supplements/index.htm
- Massachusetts Medical Society: NEJM Journal Watch. (2015, March 3). Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate for Knee Osteoarthritis Redux. Retrieved September 12, 2016 from http://www.jwatch.org/na37189/2015/03/03/glucosamine-and-chondroitin-sulfate-knee-osteoarthritis
- Martel-Pelletier, J., Roubille, C., Abram, F., Hochberg, M. C., Dorais, M., Delorme, P., & Pelletier, J. (2013). First-line analysis of the effects of treatment on progression of structural changes in knee osteoarthritis over 24 months: data from the osteoarthritis initiative progression cohort. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 74(3), 547-556. doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-203906
- Long, L. (2002). An investigation into the effect of glucosamine sulphate on temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 7, 26–27. doi:10.1211/fact.2002.00021
- S. National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus. (2016, April 22). Glucosamine sulfate. Retrieved September 14, 2016 from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/807.html
- Barnhill, J. G., Fye, C. L., Reda, D. J., Harris, C. L., & Clegg, D. O. (2009). Is All Glucosamine Alike? Clarifying the Controversies for Product Selection and Clinical Research. Journal Of Complementary & Integrative Medicine, 6(1), 1-15.
- S. National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus. (2016, January 2). Chondroitin sulfate. Retrieved September 15, 2016 from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/744.html
- University of Maryland Medical Center. (2015, June 22). Chondroitin. Retrieved September 15, 2016 from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/chondroitin
- Drugs.com. (n.d.). Glucosamine & Chondroitin with (MSM). Retrieved September 12, 2016 from https://www.drugs.com/mtm/glucosamine-chondroitin-with-msm.html