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Many people take supplements to support joint health. Some take them to relieve current joint pain, while others take them to prevent pain from developing.
Most supplements for joint health work by reducing inflammation or protecting the cartilage in the joints. Cartilage is the material that rests between bones and prevents them from rubbing together.
This cartilage can wear down over time, leading to osteoarthritis. This is a very common source of pain and disability as people age.
Anyone concerned about joint pain or their joint health should see a doctor for a full diagnosis. That said, there are a number of supplements available that might help keep the joints healthy.
Keep reading to learn about six supplements for healthy joints. This article also covers how they may help and when to see a doctor.
Glucosamine exists within the body as a natural building block of the cartilage in the joints. It is a common ingredient in many different supplement blends for healthy joints.
However, it is important to note that research into glucosamine tends to produces mixed results.
For example, a review in the journal Medwave analyzed multiple studies that used glucosamine for osteoarthritis. Their results showed that there is not enough strong evidence to support the notion that glucosamine helps with the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Other studies, such as one in the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research, show that glucosamine may help with certain symptoms, such as joint stiffness, but that it may not be effective for other symptoms.
Part of the reason for these uncertainties is that there are different types of glucosamine. Supplements for joint pain tend to contain glucosamine hydrochloride and glucosamine sulfate.
The issue is that research does not usually differentiate between the types when studying glucosamine’s effects on osteoarthritis pain. Doing so may produce clearer results.
For instance, one study noted that some types of glucosamine — including a specific type of glucosamine sulfate — may be superior to others. When reviewing the effects of a specific type of prescription-strength crystalline glucosamine sulfate, the researchers found that this type of glucosamine was effective in treating symptoms of joint pain.
Long-term trials have shown that crystalline glucosamine sulfate slowed down symptom progression in people with osteoarthritis of the knee. Research also indicates that the compound can cause a long-term reduction in symptoms and reduce the need for other pain medications and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Glucosamine sulfate is available over the counter. A person can ask their doctor about crystalline glucosamine sulfate.
Chondroitin is another building block of cartilage that may promote healthy growth in the joints.
Many companies package glucosamine along with chondroitin in the same formula for joint health, as many believe that the two compounds may work in tandem to support cartilage.
Chondroitin itself may be effective for a few symptoms of osteoarthritis. One study found that in trials, chondroitin was more effective than a placebo in controlling pain in the joints and improving the function of the joints themselves.
Another study, this time in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, notes that although chondroitin’s ability to reduce pain is modest, it has a lower risk of serious side effects compared with other symptom control methods, such as NSAIDs.
This may indicate that chondroitin is a better long-term option in some cases.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is another common supplement for the joints, often making its way into joint health blends containing chondroitin or glucosamine.
One study notes that MSM may help improve a few different issues in the body, including inflammation, joint pain, and oxidative stress.
This may support joint health overall, and it could reduce symptoms in some people. Additionally, most people tolerate MSM when they take it in normal doses.
Many researchers have studied turmeric and its compound curcumin. Curcumin appears to have a strong anti-inflammatory effect, which may help reduce symptoms in some cases.
One study found that taking around 1,000 milligrams of curcumin each day may help reduce some symptoms, including joint pain. This effect is similar to those of over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen.
Many supplements containing turmeric will also contain black pepper, which may help the body absorb and use the turmeric effectively.
That said, there is currently not enough strong evidence to make any definite claims about curcumin’s benefits for joint pain. However, the anti-inflammatory effect is well noted, and many people do take the supplement for its potential to relieve joint pain.
Boswellia, or frankincense, is another natural supplement that may be helpful in maintaining healthy joints. Like turneric, boswellia also has an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Reducing inflammation in areas such as the joints may help reduce pain.
Boswellia may also work in tandem with other compounds, such as curcumin. A 12 week study comparing a curcumin supplement with a curcumin and boswellia combination supplement found that the latter was more effective in the management of osteoarthritis-related pain.
The combination of curcumin and boswellia may be helpful for people with joint pain or osteoarthritis who are worried about the potential side effects of NSAIDs.
One review in the journal Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism notes that people who take curcumin are less likely to experience side effects than those taking NSAIDs, and that the combination of curcumin and boswellia carried little risk of adverse effects.
However, much of the research into these compounds has been from small studies, meaning that there is not enough strong evidence to make any definite claims about their safety or effectiveness.
Tamarind seed may be another natural alternative to traditional joint supplements. The seed contains a number of antioxidants that have an anti-inflammatory effect and may support the joints. Some research suggests that it may even be anti-arthritic.
One study in the journal Scientific Reports found that tamarind seed extract actually works to protect the cartilage and bone by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. It does so while preventing degeneration of these cells.
The study suggests that tamarind seed extract could be a potent anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, and anti-arthritic compound. That said, researchers have called for further studies to confirm this.
Another study investigated the effects of a combination of tamarind seeds and turmeric for joint pain in people without arthritis. The results showed that people who took the combination of tamarind seed and turmeric had significant relief from knee pain and improved joint function after engaging in physical activity.
Even when taking supplements to boost or maintain joint health, it is important to consider other options to help keep the joints healthy.
Other aspects of a healthy joint routine include:
- maintaining a moderate weight, to reduce the load on the joints
- getting regular physical exercise, to strengthen the muscles supporting the joints
- trying gentle stretches and yoga, to increase flexibility and range of motion in the joints
- using heat or cold packs, to reduce stiffness or soreness in the joints
- taking other medications, as a doctor suggests
Alternative therapies, such as massage or acupuncture, may provide minor symptom relief in some people. These therapies may also help reduce other important factors, such as stress.
Vitamin D may also be useful in soothing joint pain. Read more about it here.
Anyone concerned about joint symptoms such as popping, cracking noises, pain, or stiffness should see a doctor for a full diagnosis.
Early diagnosis may help rule out other conditions that could be causing these symptoms and provide earlier access to treatment options.
Cartilage in the joints helps cushion the bones from impact and keep the bones in each joint from rubbing together. If this cartilage wears down, people may start to notice symptoms such as popping, pain, or stiffness.
Some joint supplements may help ease these symptoms or prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Glucosamine and chondroitin may help reduce symptoms in some people, while other natural options — such as turmeric and boswellia — may also help with joint pain management.
Anyone concerned about their joint health or symptoms in their joints should see a doctor for a full diagnosis.
Early diagnosis may help improve treatment outcomes and eliminate other issues that could be causing the symptoms.