Joint pain and degeneration are common problems, affecting millions of people in North America and worldwide. Joint degeneration, or osteoarthritis, occurs due to the breakdown and loss of connective tissue in the joints. This leads to inflammation as the bones lose their cushion and rub together.1 This problem increases in frequency with age and affected individuals can find the pain debilitating.
The most commonly recommended treatments for joint pain and degeneration are anti-inflammatory medications and steroid injections into the joints.1 Some people, however, may be looking for supplements to complement their treatment or to promote joint health in the absence of disease. There are several commonly chosen joint supplements, but which is the best?
The most commonly chosen supplement for joint health in North America is glucosamine. Glucosamine is a type of sugar produced by the body that serves as one of the building blocks for connective tissue in the joints. It is thought that taking glucosamine supplements can stimulate the body to produce more connective tissue, thereby returning cushion to the bones, and avoiding inflammation and pain.3
While this idea sounds promising, studies on the effects of glucosamine have had mixed results. One study comparing glucosamine to a placebo found no difference between the groups when it came to the relief of joint pain. However, other trials done in Europe found positive results when comparing glucosamine to a placebo long-term for slowing down the progression of joint disease.2
It’s important to pay attention to ingredients if you’re choosing glucosamine as a supplement. A large trial found that glucosamine hydrochloride was not effective at reducing the progression of joint disease. But others have found that glucosamine sulfate does have a positive effect.2
Chondroitin is another supplement commonly used by those with joint pain. Like glucosamine, it is a sugar produced by the body and plays an important role in the health of joints and connective tissue. Some research has been done into its effects on those with joint pain and it has been found that chondroitin may also slow the progression of joint disease. However, like glucosamine, results are mixed.3
Hyaluronic acid is another supplement commonly chosen to promote joint health. Interestingly, hyaluronic acid is commonly used by physicians to treat some cases of joint degeneration. It is injected into the affected joints and serves as lubrication, thereby fighting inflammation. When used in this manner, hyaluronic acid is thought to be effective for up to six months at fighting joint pain.2
However, oral supplementation of hyaluronic acid has not been studied for those with joint degeneration or those who wish to improve their joint health.
Those who choose fish oil for joint health are likely interested in the effects of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are not made by the body but play roles in overall cell health. Laboratory studies have found that some omega-3 fatty acids may fight the production of chemicals that lead to inflammation and that they may promote lubrication of the joints. However, the results of studies involving humans have been inconclusive and further research is necessary to determine the benefits and risks.1
There are a variety of joint supplements available on the market. Some even combine all of the aforementioned ingredients! That said, more is not necessarily better. The correct choice of joint supplement will depend on the individual and their existing treatment plan. The research around joint supplements shows that some may prove effective, but it is largely inconclusive.
Before taking any supplements, always speak with your healthcare provider. They can help to choose the right combination of therapies that are right for you and may help to improve your joint health.
- Aghamohammadi D, Dolatkhah N, Bakhtiari F, Eslamian F, Hashemian M. Nutraceutical supplements in management of pain and disability in osteoarthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Scientific Reports. 2020;10(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-020-78075-x
- Liu X, Machado G, Eyles J, Ravi V, Hunter D. Dietary supplements for treating osteoarthritis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage. 2017;25. doi:10.1016/j.joca.2017.02.494
- Zhu X, Sang L, Wu D, Rong J, Jiang L. Effectiveness and safety of glucosamine and chondroitin for the treatment of osteoarthritis: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research. 2018;13(1). doi:10.1186/s13018-018-0871-5
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