Are supplements for joint pain a waste of money? Or, is there enough research to support their use? If so, which natural join pain remedies are the best?
Do supplements work for joint pain work? There’s lots of reasons to be skeptical, 37 billion of them in fact.
Some news reports, like this one claim that the $37 billion a year supplement industry is a scam.
But surely some supplements for joint pain and inflammation work at least half decently, right?
Well, let’s take a look at what some of the research says.
Supplements for joint pain: Glucosamine and Chondroitin
According to Consumer Reports, in the U.S. alone, sales of the most popular supplement for joint pain–glucosamine and chondroitin–exceed $750 million.
However, according to the research, the verdict is not clear if the nation’s (and most likely, the world’s) top-selling joint pain supplement works.
Moreover, testing by Consumer Reports researchers reveals that many popular brands of glucosamine/chondroitin supplements for joint are of subpar quality.
In fact, 16 of some of the most popular brands on the market contain less chondroitin than what the manufacturers claim.
Also, a couple of the brands tested by Consumer Reports failed to dissolve enough for adequate absorption.
(However, the report is a few years old; it’s not clear if improvements to the formula have been made by the manufacturers that Consumer Reports calls out.)
What is Glucosamine and Chondroitin?
These two ingredients are natural. They occur in joint cartilage. Cartilage is the cushiony substance in between your bones that form a joint (knee, hip, shoulder).
Glucosamine in joint supplements usually comes from the shells of shellfish. As for chondroitin, in supplements it’s derived from shark and cow cartilage.
Most conventional health experts and organizations do not believe that this supplement definitely works. However, there is some research that shows it may.
This includes its pain-relieving potential on people with osteoarthritis (OA). OA is a joint disease. Over 30 million Americans have OA.
As this research from early 2017 says, many studies do show a significant treatment effect of glucosamine chondroitin (G/C).
Furthermore, this supplement is remarkably safe, says the researchers. However, “there is still controversy regarding their relative effectiveness.”
The conclusion of the research, which contains over 80 references to other studies, is still a mixed bag.
A positive effect of glucosamine and chondroitin has been shown, the study authors say. However, they also add, “Only a few high-quality level I trials exist.”
Supplements for painful joints
Let’s take a look instead at what G/C products you might want to avoid. This recommendation is based on the above-mentioned Consumer Reports study.
Consumer Reports’ testing criteria was that a G/C product had to contain at least 90 percent of the listed amount on the label. In addition the supplements had to have acceptable (very minimal at most) levels of heavy metals. Moreover, the supplements has to be able to dissolve according to U.S. Pharmacopeia standards.
Seven products did not have the amount of G/C that was advertised on the labels. The false advertising G/C brands: CVS Triple Strength, Finest Natural Triple Strength (a Walgreens brand), Natural Factors Glucosamine & Chondroitin Sulfates, Spring Valley Triple Strength (a Walmart brand), Trigosamine Max Strength, and 365 Everyday Value Extra Strength (Whole Foods’ brand), and Nature Made Triple Flex Triple Strength. Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value along with Trigosamine did not meet the standards for dissolving.
The one brand that not only met Consumer Reports’ criteria but was also the most cost-effective is Kirkland Signature Clinical Strength. This product is sold at Costco. (To read the full report click here.)
Natural supplements for joint pain and stiffness
Glucosamine and chondroitin of course aren’t the only supplements that may work for joint pain. There are other ones to consider.
Each of the following supplements for joint pain are natural and safe.
The first one is called “SAM-e.” Technically, SAM-e isn’t 100% natural. Rather, it’s a synthetic chemical. But the chemical comes from a compound that occurs naturally in the human body.
Much of the research on SAM-e focuses on its ability to treat depression. But there is some evidence that shows it can relieve joint pain.
This study concludes SAM-e has a slower onset of action. However, it’s just as effective as the prescription, Celebrex, for managing knee osteoarthritis.
Another one of the best supplements for joint pain might be MSM. It’s is an all-natural organic sulfur.
Fruits and veggies and grains are natural sources of MSM.
How well does it works for joint pain and inflammation? Research seems to indicate it works better in combination with other ingredients.
In addition, MSM, boswellic acid and type II collagen together are effective in reducing arthritis pain and type II collagen, according to this research.
Best supplement for joint pain and inflammation: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Another natural supplement you may want to consider for joint pain and inflammation are omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil supplements are one of the best sources of omega-3s. (If you’re vegan, you can buy an algae oil supplement.)
Using fish oil for joint pain isn’t a new health fad. In fact, since the 18th century, people have been using cod liver oil to treat muscle and joint aches. [source]
But up until recently, there’s been two big problems with fish oil: burps and rancidity. Fish oil can go bad. And many fish oil products tasted awful and caused belching.
However, this research on natural anti inflammation supplements says that extraction techniques have drastically improved. Thus, there is less chance of oxidation during the manufacturing process.
The authors of the study conclude, “The therapeutic benefits of fish oil can now be realized without the regurgitation and odor of previous products caused by peroxides and rancid tasting fish oil.”
That’s great news. But what does the research say about omega-3s for pain relief. Are they some of the best supplements for joint pain?
The same research study claims that omega-3s are some of the “most effective natural anti-inflammatory agents available.”
Furthermore, “the effectiveness of fish oil in treating arthritis has been well documented with many positive clinical studies, when compared to traditional pharmaceutical[s].”
Why are Omega-3s Good For Joint Pain?
The short answer to a very long physiological explanation is omega-3s work by blocking inflammatory cells. They also directly reduce degenerative enzymes.
Moreover, omega-3s reduce inflammation in synovial cartilage. The cartilage in your joints are cushioned by synovial fluid.
But with the aging process comes the inflammation and dehydration of joints. Thus, omega-3’s may help prevent wear and tear in the joints.
And here’s more proof that omega-3s might just be one of the best supplements for joint pain. This research shows that a majority of the people in the study with cervical and lumbar disc disease could replace NSAIDs with fish oil supplements.
NSAID pain remedies can cause serious side effects. According to the researchers, take 1.5–5g of EPA and DHA per day with meals. EPA and DHA are the main active compounds in omega-3 fatty acids.
Supplements for joint pain: white willow bark
The above link to research on natural anti inflammatory remedies also covers white willow bark. The researchers claim that this is one of the oldest herbal remedies for pain and inflammation. In fact, it dates back to ancient Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Indian civilizations.
Relatively few people in the U.S. and other western cultures use white willow bark. Instead, aspirin has become one of the most popular pain-relieving remedies.
However, recent concerns about aspirin’s potential to cause internal bleeding has led to a modest surge in using white willow bark for pain. With white willow bark, you may receive the pain-relieving benefits of aspirin without the side effects. That’s because white willow bark contains a compound (salicin) which is very similar to aspirin.
Supplements for joint pain: curcumin
Curcumin is one of over 100 naturally-occurring compounds in the turmeric spice. Turmeric has received lots of notoriety for therapeutic benefits.
There are a ton of studies on curcumin and turmeric. The conclusion of this analysis seems to support its use for pain.
Although the authors say there’s “not a sufficient number of subjects to permit a definitive recommendation,” there is “compelling justification for its use as a dietary adjunct to conventional therapy.”
Furthermore, the authors say there’s also enough evidence to support larger clinical trials on curcumin. And these trials might eventually lead to its “acceptance as a standard therapy for many forms of arthritis and possibly other inflammatory conditions.”
More supplements for joint pain
Certainly, these aren’t the only supplements for joint pain and inflammation. However, this research will hopefully point you in the right direction.
As for side effects, these supplements are mostly safe. But if you take a blood thinner like Coumadin (warfarin), consult your doctor if you want to take a supplement with glucosamine/chondroitin.
Also, glucosamine in supplements is sourced from shellfish. So don’t take it if you have a seafood or shellfish allergy.