Stiff, swollen, inflamed joints are common ailments as we age. They’re also the hallmarks of osteoarthritis (OA), the most widespread joint disease. A new study finds that inflammation might be a cause of OA rather than a mere symptom.
OA is characterized by a breakdown of cartilage, particularly in the knees, hips, fingers, neck, and spine. Stanford University professor William Robinson, MD, PhD, says OA has long been viewed “as a matter of simple war and tear, like the tires gradually wearing out a car.” His new study shows that chronic, low-grade inflammation of the joints is a significant factor in the development of OA.
Targeting the underlying inflammation that occurs well before OA symptoms appear might be enough to prevent the condition from developing.
Many dietary supplements have proven effective in treating inflamed joints. Glucosamine and chondroitin, which historically have received mixed reviews, have shown significant promise in new research. A 2011 assessment published in the International Journal of Rheumatology found that long-term treatment with glucosamine alleviates pain, improves joint mobility, limits the progression of OA, and reduces the need for joint replacement. The review noted similar results for chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid. All three of those compounds are naturally formed by the body and are components of cartilage and synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints. They’re readily available as capsules, tablets, powders, and liquids and are often taken in combination.
“The described effects justify the use of these three cartilage components in patients suffering from OA,” wrote Jorg Jerosch, MD, the author of the review. Dr. Jerosch concluded that the benefits of these “chondoprotectives” is enhanced when taken in combination with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E, and minerals selenium, zinc, and copper.
Here are some other supplements that have been studied extensively for relief of joint pain.
Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation and are essential for many functions of the body and brain.
Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fatty acid, found in the oils of some plant seeds, including evening primrose, borage, and black currant. The body converts it into inflammation-fighting compounds.
Natural eggshell membrane (NEM) relieves the pain and stiffness of joint and connective tissue disorders. Daily NEM supplementation led to rapid improvement (within seven days) and ongoing relief in two recent studies.
The spice turmeric and its chemical component curcumin have been shown to protect joints from inflammation and damage.
Herbs such as boswellia (also known as frankincense), ginger, and green tea extracts show promise in reducing inflammation in the joints. Andrographis, devil’s claw, and white willow bark are other botanicals that some users find effective for joint pain.
For topical relief, consider gels or creams that contain capsaicin, the fiery extract of cayenne peppers, or homeopathic products.
Use Caution with Meds
Keep in mind that herbal supplements may cause side effects when they interact with prescription medications. Glucosamine, for example, can affect clotting agents. Herbs may also interact with medications that are prescribed before and after surgery. Be sure to discuss your use of supplements with your healthcare provider, especially prior to surgery. And if you’re allergic to shellfish, be aware that supplemental glucosamine is usually extracted from crabs, shrimp, or lobsters. Ask your natural products retailer about plant-sourced glucosamine.