Arthritis Rx

A man with an aching knee while running on the beach

It’s an astounding number: 54 million American adults report receiving a diagnosis of arthritis or similar joint disorder from their doctors. That’s about one in four Americans, “making arthritis one of the most common, if not most common, chronic medical condition,” says rheumatologist Nathan Wei, MD, director of the Arthritis Treatment Center, in Frederick, MD.  

Collagen & Joint Health

Collagen hydrolysate may help lessen joint pain. Collagen supplements supply a rich source of peptides and amino acids that the body needs to make collagen in joint cartilage. Studies show that collagen hydrolysate taken orally accumulates in cartilage. Other research indicates that statistically significant results start to occur after three months of supplementation, but not before.

These joint problems range from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis to gout, lupus, and fibromyalgia. It’s not just older people who suffer, as Dr. Wei points out: “Approximately 60 percent of those affected by arthritis are under the age of 65.”


People seeking relief from joint pain often take glucosamine- and chondroitin-containing supplements: Both ingredients rebuild joint cartilage. These heavy hitters are what Dr. Wei recommends to his patients who have osteoarthritis, and he takes them himself. The compounds have similar and complementary roles in the body.

“While the studies are in conflict, I believe there’s enough evidence to recommend it. The dosage I recommend is glucosamine 500 milligrams (mg)/chondroitin 400 mg, three capsules daily for one month, and then one capsule twice dai-ly,” he explains.

In a recent study, adults with knee osteoarthritis who supplemented with a combination including both glucosamine and chondroitin experienced improved walking speed (which is tied to a decrease in knee pain). It’s clear that these supplements, as a combination, reduced pain since those with knee osteoarthritis who started supplementing needed fewer NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). NSAID use dropped by 7 percent in the first month of glucosamine/chondroitin supplementation and went down by 37 percent after three months of supplement use.

NSAIDs, such as aspirin, Celebrex, and Advil, ease joint pain while also reducing inflammation of joints and soft tissues, which is why so many people rely on them. But they do have downsides, which makes natural alternatives desirable.

NSAIDs work by blocking the production of prostaglandins (hormonelike substances that can trigger inflammation). But blocking these inflammation-promoting prostaglandins is also the source of NSAID side effects. Prostaglandins play other roles in the body. For example, they control the secretion of gastric juices and the mucus that lines the stomach. This is why NSAIDs are linked to ulcers and life-threatening gastric bleeding when used long term.

Fish Oil

Osteoarthritis is known as the wear-and-tear disease, since pain and disability stem from a wearing away of cartilage in the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis, however, relates to underlying inflammation as the core problem. Inflammation is a complex biological response that, under normal circumstances, initiates healing. In rheumatoid arthritis, however, the inflammation is without cause and becomes chronic. It is this chronic nature of the inflammation that becomes destructive to afflicted joints.

For patients experiencing inflammation-related joint issues, Dr. Wei recommends fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil fight inflammation, which helps in three key ways: decreased joint pain, less morning stiffness, and reduced reliance on NSAID medications for pain relief.

“Fish oil generally comes as a 360 mg capsule, and I recommend at least two a day,” says Dr. Wei. “Fish oil has also been shown to be valuable for patients with heart disease,” which makes this supplement valuable for multiple reasons.


The spice turmeric contains the active ingredient curcumin, which is a well-established antioxidant and an-ti-inflammatory. Joint function improves and pain is reduced when turmeric supplements are used.

A large body of research backs up the use of curcumin for healthier joints.

Turmeric comes in different forms, so Dr. Wei recommends following the manufacturers’ suggested dosing.

Additional Joint-Friendly Supplements

Consider these additional dietary supplements and herbs that Nathan Wei, MD, recommends for joint relief:

  • Boswellia
  • Bromelain
  • Garlic
  • Ginger

Slather It On

Arnica creams and gels can provide topical relief for sore joints. You simply rub the herb-based cream/gel onto your sore area to relieve pain and minimize swelling. When arnica gel went head to head with an ibuprofen gel in a group of 204 adults with osteoarthritis pain, the arnica alleviated symptoms and improved joint function as well as the ibuprofen. Considering that arnica comes with far fewer side effects than the conventional pain reliever, it’s certainly worth a try (except in those allergic to arnica or related plants, such as chamomile or marigolds).

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Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH

Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, is an evidence-based, integrative medicine journalist with more than 20 years of research and writing expertise, She received her Master of Public Health from OHSU-PSU School of Public Health.

She is the author or co-author of numerous books, including Life After Baby (2012), The Green Tea Book, 2nd edition (Penguin, 2008). User’s Guide to Healthy Digestion (Basic Health Publications, 2004), The Soy Sensation (McGraw-Hill, 2002), User’s Guide to Glucosamine and Chondroitin (Basic Health Publications, 2002), The Common Cold Cure (Avery, 1999), and The Green Tea Book (Avery, 1998).

Her work was recognized for excellence as a 2001 finalist for the Maggie Awards (Western Publications Association award honoring editorial excellence in magazines west of the Mississippi River).