Many people take vitamins and supplements to help ease joint pain and arthritis. And several show promise as natural treatments, especially if you use them with other therapies like glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Here's some information about how some of the most popular supplements for arthritis work, what they do, and if they might help you.
Glucosamine is one of the most popular supplements for arthritis. It's touted as being able to delay cartilage breakdown, relieve osteoarthritis pain, and make your joints more mobile. Studies have shown glucosamine might help with joint pain, but we need more research to understand the results.
Your body produces glucosamine to help grow and repair cartilage. Glucosamine supplements might help further lubricate your joints, and help cartilage retain water and prevent its breakdown.
Glucosamine side effects
Glucosamine supplements are safe and usually don't cause problems. But they can interact with blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin). They might also affect your blood sugar levels, so if you have diabetes, talk to your doctor before you take them.
Some other possible side effects of glucosamine include:
- Upset stomach
You also shouldn't take glucosamine if you're allergic to shellfish or have glaucoma.
How to get glucosamine naturally
There are no major food sources of glucosamine. Most supplements are made from chitosamine, a natural substance found in the outer shells of shrimp, lobsters, and crabs. Other types of glucosamine are made in the lab if you're allergic to shellfish.
Glucosamine With Chondroitin
Healthy cartilage naturally has glucosamine and chondroitin. Supplements containing the two are very popular and are sold as pain relievers for arthritis, and as treatments to reduce joint stiffness. But research on how well they work is mixed.
Glucosamine and chondroitin do seem to have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help with pain, swelling, and some symptoms of arthritis. But several studies found they have little to no effect on arthritis pain.
Other research suggests that glucosamine and chondroitin supplements can help relieve moderate to severe pain in some people, so talk to your doctor to see if it's safe for you.
Curcumin is the active ingredient of the spice turmeric, which is known to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Because it's such a powerful compound, some research says curcumin may be good at helping with symptoms of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, perhaps even better than an anti-inflammatory drug.
Research indicates that a plant compound in green tea known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) may help your joints and skeletal muscles stay healthy. EGCG is a powerful antioxidant thought to be as much as 100 times stronger than vitamins C and E.
Lab and animal studies show EGCG can protect cartilage and bone, and lower the risk of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. But more research is needed to see if these results translate to humans.
Vitamin D is important for helping your body absorb calcium, which keeps your bones strong. Research also shows that vitamin D helps fight inflammation.
People with rheumatoid arthritis consistently had lower levels of vitamin D in their blood than those without arthritis when studied. If you're low in vitamin D, your symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis also could get worse.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oils and other foods, encourage your body to produce chemicals that help control inflammation. Research suggests they may help weaken the autoimmune inflammatory symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Evidence also supports omega-3s as treatments for arthritis pain and joint stiffness, but we need to explore these further to understand which work best and at what dosages.
Information About Vitamins and Supplements
Safe upper limits for vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals all have different dosages and recommended daily allowances. Talk to your doctor before you start taking one so they can let you know about side effects or medication interactions.
Vitamin and supplement glossary: common definitions
This glossary provides simple definitions for common terms such as antioxidant, fat soluble vitamins, and phytochemicals.