Many people deal with chronic joint pain in their knees, hands, elbows, shoulders, and elsewhere. In most cases, this is caused by the most common type of art hritis, osteoarthritis.
Pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil), are usually the first choice for joint pain relief. There are also dozens of supplements that claim to treat joint pain, but which ones actually work? Here’s a look at 9 of the best options and what the existing research says about them.
Glucosamine is natural component of cartilage, a substance that prevents bones from rubbing against each other and causing pain and inflammation. It might also help prevent the cartilage breakdown that can happen with arthritis.
Many supplements aimed at treating joint pain contain glucosamine, which is one of the most well-studied supplements for osteoarthritis. But despite this research, there are still some questions about how well it works.
There are two types of glucosamine found in supplements: glucosamine hydrochloride and glucosamine sulphate.
One meta-analysis found that products containing glucosamine hydrochloride don’t do much to improve joint pain caused by osteoarthritis. Another study shows that glucosamine sulphate does improve these symptoms, so it may be a better option that glucosamine hydrochloride.
When taken over a long period of time, glucosamine sulphate may also help to slow down the progression of osteoarthritis. Studies suggest that it slows down narrowing of the joint space, a marker of the condition getting worse, when taken for up to three years.
Try it: Glucosamine sulphate is typically taken once daily in a dose of 1,500 milligrams (mg). If this upsets your stomach, try spreading it out over three doses of 500 mg each. You can find glucosamine sulphate supplements on our website
Like glucosamine, chondroitin is a building block of cartilage. It may also help prevent cartilage breakdown from osteoarthritis.
Many clinical studies have found that chondroitin can reduce joint pain and stiffness in people with osteoarthritis. About 53 percent of people who take chondroitin have a 20 percent or greater improvement in knee pain.
Chondroitin sulphate may also slow down the progression of osteoarthritis when taken long-term. Studies show that it slows down narrowing of the joint space when taken for up to 2 years.
Joint supplements often combine chondroitin with glucosamine. But it’s still unclear if taking a combination supplement is any better than taking one or the other on their own.
Try it: Chondroitin is typically taken in a dose of 400 to 800 mg two or three times per day. You can find chondroitin supplements on our website
S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe) is a supplement commonly used to help with symptoms of depression and osteoarthritis. Your liver naturally produces SAMe from an amino acid called methionine. It has several functions, including helping the production and repair of cartilage.
When taken as a supplement, SAMe can help with symptoms of joint pain caused by osteoarthritis. It may be as effective as the anti-inflammatory drug celecoxib (Celebrex). In one study from 2004, celecoxib improved symptoms more than SAMe after a month of treatment. But by the second month, the treatments were comparable. Find our Solgar recommendation here
Turmeric is one of the most popular supplements for treating pain, including joint pain caused by osteoarthritis. Its pain-relieving effects are attributed to a chemical compound in turmeric called curcumin. Curcumin seems to have anti-inflammatory effects.
Although research on turmeric for joint pain is limited, an analysis of studies found that it improves symptoms of joint pain more than a placebo and may be comparable to ibuprofen.
Try it: Turmeric is usually taken in a dose of 500 mg two to four times daily. You can find turmeric supplements on our website
Boswellia, also known as Indian frankincense, is commonly used for pain caused by arthritis. Chemicals in this extract called Boswellia acids have anti-inflammatory effects.
Clinical studies have shown that Boswellia extracts improve pain symptoms more than a placebo in people with osteoarthritis.
Try it: Studies looking at the use of Boswellia for joint pain have used doses ranging from 100 mg once per day to 333 mg three times per day. You can find Boswellia supplements on Amazon.
6. Avocado-soybean unsaponifiable
Avocado-soybean unsaponifiable (ASUs) refer to a type of extract from avocado and soybean oils that might help prevent the breakdown of cartilage. It may also help to repair cartilage.
Clinical studies show that ASUs improve pain symptoms more than placebo in people with osteoarthritis.
Try it: The typical dose of ASU is 300 mg per day.
7. Devil’s claw
Devil’s claw, also called harpagophytum, contains a chemical called harpogoside that has anti-inflammatory effects.
Taking devil’s claw may help with joint pain from osteoarthritis. In one study, devil’s claw worked about as well as an anti-inflammatory drug called diacerein. However, since there isn’t much research on this supplement for osteoarthritis, more high-quality studies are necessary.
Try it: Most studies involving devil’s claw have used doses of 600 to 800 mg three times per day.
8. Fish oil
Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, which have anti-inflammatory effects.
An analysis of clinical research shows that taking fish oil supplements reduces symptoms such as joint pain in those with rheumatoid arthritis. But it doesn’t seem to reduce osteoarthritis symptoms.
Try it: Typical fish oil doses range from 300 to 1,000 mg per day. You can find fish oil supplements on our website.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is another common ingredient in supplements said to help with joint pain.
In one study, MSM improved pain and functioning compared to a placebo in people with osteoarthritis.
Try it: Typical MSM doses range from 1,500 to 6,000 grams per day, sometimes divided into two doses. You can find MSM supplements on our website
Tips for choosing a supplement
Choosing a supplement for joint pain can be overwhelming with the number of products available. Many of these products contain multiple ingredients. Keep in mind that a long ingredient list doesn’t always make for a better product.
In some cases, added ingredients don’t have any proven benefits for joint health. Others might contain multiple beneficial ingredients, such glucosamine and chondroitin. But there’s not much proof that taking supplements containing multiple ingredients is more effective than taking a single ingredient. Plus, some of these products have too little of one or more ingredients for them to be beneficial.
Before choosing a supplement, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about other medications you’re taking so they can check for potential interactions.
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