What are the best supplements for joint pain? Our top picks.

What are the best supplements for joint pain? Our top picks.

Joint issues are extremely common, many of us deal with them daily. There are many different causes of joint problems.

Causes of Joint Pain

The most common causes of joint pain are:

  • Ageing
  • Inflammation
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Other chronic illness

These issues affect the joints in different ways. Some cause swelling and inflammation. Others (especially ageing) degrade the cartilage and collagen that make joints move smoothly.

Joint problems manifest themselves in many different ways, and affect a lot of people. Because of this, finding an effective, generally accessible aid is quite important.

Enter supplements!

There has been an interest recently in how supplements can be used to reduce joint pain. Their effectiveness has been studied and debated, but there are some encouraging conclusions.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the best supplements for joint pain!

Glucosamine

Supplement fans will be familiar with our first pick, as it is a common ingredient in joint pain products.

Glucosamine is produced in the human body. It forms an essential part of cartilage. (1) This is what makes up your nose and ears, and of course, part of the joints.

For supplements, it is usually sourced from the shells of shellfish. However, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, you can still use glucosamine! Food supplement manufacturers have now started using the fungus Aspergillus niger, and fermented corn.

So what can it do?

Supplements containing glucosamine are the most common products for joint conditions like osteoarthritis. (2)

There has been quite a lot of research into the effectiveness of glucosamine for joints. Most of it suggests that glucosamine sulphate can improve pain. This is in addition to slowing the progression of osteoarthritis. (1)

Part of the reason why it’s so popular could also be because it’s been safe and effective in long term trials. This means that it might be able to be used long-term for relieving joint pain.

This is reassuring, as other painkillers can be problematic when taken for a long time. This includes NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), like Ibuprofen.

Chondroitin

This ingredient is similar to glucosamine. This is because it’s essential for the structure and function of joints. (1) Some think that chondroitin is what makes cartilage spongy and resistant to compression. (3)

For supplements, chondroitin is often sourced from cows and sharks.

The most commonly used version of chondroitin in supplements is chondroitin sulphate. This is chondroitin that has reacted with sulphur.

How does it help then?

One suggestion is that chondroitin helps to maintain the thickness of joint cartilage. Chondroitin can also stimulate cartilage repair and fight enzymes that degrade cartilage. (1)

All things considered, it’s pretty important!

One study on the effectiveness of chondroitin concluded that it can help with knee and hip pain. It also mentioned chondroitin possibly aiding recovery from major trauma associated with osteoarthritis.(4)

Because glucosamine and chondroitin have similar abilities, they are often combined in supplements. This enables them to work together to help ease any joint pain or stiffness.

This combination is recommended by the European League Against Rheumatism, to manage osteoarthritis.

Here’s what they had to say about the combination of chondroitin and glucosamine:

They are ‘symptomatic drugs for osteoarthritis which may affect the structure of cartilage’ (in a good way). (1)

Sounds pretty good to me!

DHA

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DHA is an Omega-3 fatty acid, and is often paired with EHA (another Omega-3 acid). These are mostly found in fish oils, but are also found in marine algae. (5)

Omega-3 acids are essential for your health. It’s important to know what foods contain them, because we rely on our diets to receive the amount we need.

What’s the benefit?

The beneficial effects of Omega-3 fatty acids have been known about for quite a while.

Omega-3 acids keep your brain, eyes, and heart healthy, but they can also be used for pain treatment!

In a number of studies, using DHA and EPA reduced the pain intensity and tenderness of some patients. Using the oils also reduced the amount of NSAIDs they took. (6)

New research has found that DHA and EPA (which are both Omega-3 acids) produce anti-inflammatory lipids (fats). (6) This is most likely why they are able to reduce pain and tenderness in patients.

Now that we’ve gone through the animal-based supplement options, let’s have a look at some herbal ones!

Turmeric

If you know anything about supplements, you will know about turmeric.

Turmeric comes from the Curcuma longa plant, which belongs to the ginger family. It is native to tropical South Asia. (7)

The earliest recorded uses of Turmeric were in India and Israel in the 2nd Millenium BC. (8)

Over the centuries, it has been used in cooking, and in religious and medicinal practice. It was also used as a dye to colour the robes of monks and priests!

So how does it help joints?

Turmeric’s pain-reducing power lies in its anti-inflammatory properties.

A recent study found that turmeric extracts have incredible biological activity. This includes anti-inflammatory, antiarthritic, and anti-aging abilities. (9)

As a result, it can help to reduce discomfort and combat the deterioration of collagen in the joints. This is very useful, as collagen degradation often brings on pain and tenderness.

Ginger

Another herbal remedy that can be helpful in reducing joint pain is ginger!

Like turmeric, ginger has been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for centuries. (10,11)

Native to Southeast Asia, ginger had reached the Middle East and Mediterranean by the 1st Century AD. Notable Greek and Roman scholars wrote about it, including Pliny and Ptolemy. (12)

Most importantly however, it had religious significance among indigenous Austronesian people. It was used in healing rituals, to ask for protection from spirits, and for blessing ships. (13)

What are its abilities?

Like turmeric, ginger has anti-inflammatory abilities.

The American College of Rheumatology found that ginger extract significantly reduced osteoarthritis symptoms. This included pain after walking. (14) However, this was when using a highly purified and standardised extract.

Further research showed that ginger is effective at reducing pain severity. This was combined with improving the movement of people with joint stiffness. (15)

Summary

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One of the largest causes of joint pain is ageing. However, arthritis and chronic illnesses can cause joint pain early on, and make it worse as we get old.

So, the best supplements for joint pain? Glucosamine, Chondroitin, DHA, Turmeric, and Ginger.

They all have properties that can help with joint pain, whether that’s anti-inflammation, reducing pain intensity and tenderness, or stimulating repair.

Now that you’ve learned all there is to know about the best supplements for joint pain, you’ll be well equipped to deal with any issue that arises.

Links:

1) Czajka, A. et al. (2018) “Daily oral supplementation with collagen peptides combined with vitamins and other bioactive compounds improves skin elasticity and has a beneficial effect on joint and general wellbeing.” Nutrition Research 57, pp. 97-108

2) Gregory, P.J, Sperry, M. and Wilson, A.F. (2008) “Dietary Supplements for Osteoarthritis” Am Fam Physician 77(2) pp. 177-184.

3) Baeurle, S.A. et al. (2009) “Effect of the counterion behavior on the frictional–compressive properties of chondroitin sulfate solutions”

Polymer 50(7) pp. 1805-1813

4) Zhu, X. et al. (2018) “Effectiveness and safety of glucosamine and chondroitin for the treatment of osteoarthritis: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials” Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research 13, 170

5) Oregon State University (2021) Essential Fatty Acids

6) Goldberg, R.J. and Katz, J. (2007) “A meta-analysis of the analgesic effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for inflammatory joint pain” Pain 129, (1–2) pp. 210-223

7) Prasad, S. and Aggarwal, B.B. (2011) “Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects” 2nd edition. Ed: Benzie, I.F.F. and Wachtel-Galor, S. CRC Press/Taylor & Francis

8) Scott, A. et al. (2020) “Exotic foods reveal contact between South Asia and the Near East during the second millennium BCE” PNAS 118 (2), e2014956117.

9) Aggarwal, B.B. (2013) “Curcumin-free turmeric exhibits anti-inflammatory and anticancer activities: Identification of novel components of turmeric” Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 57(9) pp. 1529-1542

10) Awang DV. Ginger. Can Pharm J. 1992 Jul;125(7):309-11.

11) Tschirch A. Handbuch der Pharmakognosie [A handbook of pharmacognosy]. Leipzig: Verlag CH Tauchnitz. 1917.

12) Prance, G.T. and Nesbitt, M. (2005) “The Cultural History of Plants” Ed: Prance, G.T., Nesbitt, M. and Rudgley, R.; Routledge

13) Dalby, A. (2000) “Dangerous Tastes. The Story of Spices” University of California Press

14) Altman, R.D. and Marcussen, K.C. (2001) “Effects of a ginger extract on knee pain in patients with osteoarthritis” Arthritis and Rheumatology 44(11) pp. 2531-2538

15) Leach, M.J. and Kumar, S (2008) “The clinical effectiveness of Ginger (Zingiber officinale) in adults with osteoarthritis” International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare 6(3) pp. 311-320

This information is meant to supplement, not replace, advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances. You should always speak with your doctor or health care professional before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your health care plan or treatment and to determine what course of therapy is right for you.

 

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