Arthritis diets and supplements: Do they work?
Pain from arthritis might lead you to try anything to relieve it, including a change in diet or taking supplements. Make sure you know what works first.
- ASU (avocado-soyabean unsaponifiable). French studies of ASU,
derived from avocado and soyabean oils, show it can relieve OA pain, stimulate
cartilage repair, and lower a patient's need for non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to control pain. Dr Jason Theodosakis, author
of The Arthritis Cure and champion of glucosamine-chondroitin, believes
ASU will have a major impact on treatment of OA. It is not readily available in
the UK, but a recent study of four pieces of research show that it might have
some healing properties.
- Black currant oil. See GLA.
- Borage oil. See GLA.
- Boron. Population studies show that people who have high-boron diets
have a very low incidence of arthritis, and there's evidence that people with
OA and RA can benefit. The best sources of boron are fresh fruits and
vegetables and, depending on where you live, drinking water.
- Bovine cartilage. Taken from the windpipe and trachea of cows, it's
supposed to act as an anti-inflammatory agent in the treatment of OA and RA. A
few animal and laboratory studies are promising, but there are no human studies
to support claims. Researchers also think it may promote re-growth of
- Bromelain. This substance found in pineapple is supposed to relieve
pain and swelling in OA and RA and improve mobility. There are no studies that
show it's effective by itself, but one study of a bromelain supplement
containing the enzymes rutin and trypsin relieved pain and improved function in
73 people with knee OA. The effect was similar to taking an NSAID.
- CMO. It's touted as an "arthritis cure", but there's no human
clinical evidence to support it.
- Chondroitin sulphate. Used for many years to relieve OA pain, it's
been shown to stop joint degeneration, improve function and ease pain, but
results are mixed. One study followed patients with OA in finger joints for
three years, and showed fewer patients developed further cartilage damage. It
can take two months or more to realise the effects of chondroitin.
- DMSO. Once widely used to relieve joint and tissue inflammation, it
fell out of favour when animal studies showed high doses damaged the lens of
the eye. Don't use it without consulting your GP.
- Evening primrose oil. See Gamma linolenic acid (GLA)
- Fish oil. Studies show it relieves the pain of RA.
- Flaxseed. There are many good nutritional reasons to add it to your
diet, but studies of its effect on arthritis have shown mixed results. Its
anti-inflammatory properties work best if other vegetable-based oils are
- GLA. Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid the body
uses to make anti-inflammatory agents, unlike other omega-6 fatty acids that
actually increase inflammation. It's found in evening primrose oil, black
currant oil and borage oil supplements. Several studies show it relieves the
stiffness and pain of RA. In one study, some patients were able to stop taking
- Ginger. It's known to have painkilling and anti-inflammatory agents.
Ginger is believed to reduce joint pain and inflammation in people with OA and
RA, and protect the stomach from gastrointestinal effects of NSAIDs. A clinical
study showed ginger reduced knee OA pain.
- Glucosamine. As glucosamine hydrochloride or glucosamine sulphate,
this supplement relieves symptoms for many, but not all, people with OA. It
helps the body build and repair cartilage. In a double-blind study, glucosamine
sulphate was as effective in relieving symptoms in patients with knee OA as
ibuprofen and had fewer side effects. It takes about two months to realise the
effectiveness of this supplement. It's derived from crab, lobster, or shrimp
shells, so check with your GP before taking any kind of glucosamine if you are
allergic to shellfish.
- Glucosamine chondroitin. Many OA patients get relief by taking
glucosamine and chondroitin together, but it's not known whether the
combination is more effective than taking them alone. That was the subject of a
US National Institutes of Health (NIH) study called GAIT
(glucosamine/chondroitin arthritis intervention trial). The research showed how
effective the supplements are in reducing pain in people with knee OA. For
patients with moderate to severe pain the combination of glucosamine and
chondroitin provided significant pain relief compared to placebo. However they
also showed that for those with mild pain the supplements either in combination
or taken alone did not provide significant pain relief.
- MSM. It's widely touted for relief of pain and inflammation. Its
safety and effectiveness have yet to be determined.
- SAM-e. Many European studies over the last 20 years show SAM-e is as
effective as anti-inflammatory painkillers in treating OA but with fewer side
effects. It works in conjunction with vitamin B-12, B-6, and folate. Claims
that SAM-e repairs and rebuilds cartilage lack evidence, as studies have been
done only in the lab and in animals.
- Shark cartilage. Ground-up cartilage from Pacific Ocean sharks is
supposed to relieve the inflammation and pain of osteoarthritis. Animal and lab
studies are promising, but there are no human studies to support claims.
Researchers also think it may promote re-growth of cartilage.
- Stinging nettle. Taken orally or applied to the skin, stinging
nettle is supposed to reduce the pain and inflammation of OA. Some studies show
that patients can lower their dosages of NSAIDs by taking stinging nettle in
extract form. Two small studies showed stinging nettle applied topically
reduced pain for people with hip OA and thumb joint pain.
- Turmeric. This supplement is used in traditional Chinese and Indian
Aruyvedic medicine to relieve pain, stiffness and inflammation of OA and RA. A
small study that combined turmeric, boswellia and zinc showed decreased pain in
OA. Two studies using a combination of turmeric, boswellia, ginger and
aswangandha relieved pain and inflammation in RA. Its effectiveness alone is
- Wild yam. Although it contains natural anti-inflammatory steroids,
it is likely they're not in a form the body can use.
Experimenting with foods and supplements is not without risks. "I know
people get desperate enough to try anything, but I would not feel comfortable
eliminating whole groups of food", says Gerbstadt. "Before you eliminate any
foods or modify your diet, check with a nutritionist."
"The best advice is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and stay close to
your ideal body weight so affected joints have less extra weight to carry
around", says Wilson. "Also get plenty of rest and exercise and decrease
Be aware that many supplements interfere with or enhance effects of
medications you're already taking. For example, a number of supplements
increase the effects of blood-thinning medication. Check with your GP.