7 Of The Best Supplements for Arthritis
Arthritis is a common condition that affects millions of people around the world. It causes pain, stiffness and inflammation in the joints, which can make it hard to move and do everyday activities. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, which occurs when the cartilage (the strong and flexible connective tissue that protects your joints and bones), which cushions the ends of the bones wears down over time.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but there are many ways to manage the symptoms and slow down its progression. Many people find that supplements and natural remedies help to ease the pain and stiffness that they associate with arthritis. Everyone is different and whilst somebody may find that a certain supplement helps them, other people may not have the same experience. It’s important to talk to your doctor about your options and to include any supplements or natural remedies as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
We spoke to registered dietitian, freelance health writer, and blogger Johna Burdeos, RD and Dr Nicholas Dragolea, MD at Noble Medical to find out more about the supplements most often reported to help with arthritis.
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that have anti-inflammatory properties and can help lower the levels of inflammatory markers in the blood. They may also help reduce joint pain and stiffness, improve physical function and help ensure your vital organs and immune system is working correctly.
“In my opinion, omega-3 supplementation is the most useful for osteoarthritis pain,” says Dr Nicholas Dragolea. “It’s naturally found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines. If you’re not a fish fan, you can get it from avocados, chia seeds, flaxseeds and nuts (especially walnuts), so including more of these in your diet can help.”
Omega-3 fatty acids can also be taken as a supplement. The recommended dose of fish oil for osteoarthritis is 2.7 grams per day of EPA and DHA, which are the two main types of omega-3 fatty acids.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, a spice that gives curry its yellow colour. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, as it can help block the enzymes and molecules that trigger inflammation in the body. It may also help protect the cartilage from damage and prevent bone loss in osteoarthritis.
“Curcumin supplements have been shown to potentially help ease symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis,” says Johna Burdeos, RD. “It’s important to take supplements with food containing fat to maximise absorption. Black pepper can also increase absorption.”
Curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body, so it is advisable to take it with black pepper or a fat source, such as olive or coconut oil, to enhance its bioavailability. The recommended dose of curcumin for osteoarthritis is 500 milligrams three times a day.
3. Glucosamine and Chondroitin
“Glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally-occurring compounds present in cartilage, the protective tissue surrounding joints,” says Johna Burdeos. “These substances are believed to contribute to cartilage repair and inflammation reduction. The research has been mixed and some studies suggest that they may alleviate pain and enhance functionality in individuals dealing with osteoarthritis. Some studies support one type of glucosamine over others—namely glucosamine sulphate with or without chondroitin sulphate specifically for knee osteoarthritis.”
Glucosamine and chondroitin can be taken as supplements or obtained from animal sources, such as shellfish shells or bovine cartilage. The recommended doses of glucosamine and chondroitin for osteoarthritis are 1500 milligrams and 1200 milligrams per day, respectively.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for bone health and immune function. It may also help regulate inflammation and prevent cartilage loss in osteoarthritis. Vitamin D deficiency can worsen joint pain and increase the progression of osteoarthritis.
“Vitamin D is involved in many bodily functions such as the absorption of calcium, regulation of cells responsible for autoimmune function, and fighting inflammation,” says Johna Burdeos. “According to research, low vitamin D levels in the blood have been associated with various medical conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and chronic pain. Vitamin D is naturally occurring in some foods and found in high amounts in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, as well as fortified foods like breakfast cereals, dairy and dairy alternative products.
“The body also produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. However, many older adults in particular don't get enough vitamin D due to less exposure to sunlight and the body becoming less efficient at producing vitamin D as it ages. Vitamin D is one of the most recommended nutritional supplements. Because it's a fat-soluble vitamin, it's very important to take a vitamin D supplement with a meal containing fat such as avocado, eggs, cheese, and olive oil.”
Vitamin D can be taken as a supplement or synthesised by the skin when exposed to sunlight. It can also be found in some foods, such as fatty fish, egg yolks and fortified dairy products. The recommended dose of vitamin D for osteoarthritis is 800 to 1000 international units per day.
5. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
MSM is a sulphur-containing compound that is naturally present in some plants and animals. It has anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, as it can inhibit the production of inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins in the body. It can also help improve joint function and reduce oxidative stress in osteoarthritis.
“MSM is an organic sulphur compound,” says Johna Burdeo. “Certain foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains contain sulphur. Sulphur is also found in humans. It's needed to make connective tissue. It appears that MSM acts as an analgesic, potentially lessening pain and improving physical function, according to a small study conducted in adults living with knee osteoarthritis. It's also been combined with glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate (GC) in a study involving people with knee osteoarthritis grade I-II and shown to be more beneficial compared to GC+placebo.”
MSM can be taken as a supplement or obtained from some foods, such as garlic, onions, broccoli and cabbage. The recommended dose of MSM for osteoarthritis is 1.5 to 6 grams per day.
Ginger is a root that has been used for centuries as a spice and medicine. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties as it contains compounds called gingerols that can modulate the activity of inflammatory enzymes and pathways in the body. It may also help reduce joint pain and stiffness, improving physical function and quality of life in people with osteoarthritis.
“Ginger comes from the roots of the ginger plant,” says Johna Burdeos. “It has anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen. Specifically, ginger extract has been shown to reduce pain and disability in hip and knee OA. Recent research suggests that the combination of gingerols (the active ingredient in ginger) and ginger essential oils may be more effective than gingerols used alone.”
Ginger can be taken as a supplement or consumed as a spice, tea or juice. The recommended dose of ginger for osteoarthritis is 500 to 1000 milligrams per day.
7. Green Tea
Green tea is a beverage that is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. It is rich in polyphenols, which are antioxidants that can scavenge free radicals and protect the cells from damage. Green tea also contains a catechin called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which can inhibit the expression of inflammatory genes and enzymes in the cartilage and synovium of the joints. It can also help prevent cartilage degradation and bone erosion in osteoarthritis.
“Green tea is a type of unfermented tea that comes from the Camellia sinensis plant's leaves,” says Johna Burdeos. “It's teeming with polyphenols--beneficial plant compounds that have anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. Beneficial teas like green tea in general have been shown to have positive effects on a wide range of conditions, from arthritis to cancer and diabetes . Green tea specifically, contains high amounts of epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a component that's been shown to inhibit arthritis.”
Green tea can be taken as a supplement or drunk as a beverage. The recommended dose of green tea for osteoarthritis is 3 to 4 cups per day, which provide about 240 to 320 milligrams of polyphenols.
These are some of the best supplements for arthritis, based on current scientific evidence and expert opinion. However, they are not a substitute for conventional treatments, such as painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs or joint replacement surgery. They should be used as an adjunct to these treatments, under the guidance of your doctor.
Before taking any supplements, make sure to check with your doctor for possible interactions, side effects or allergies. Also, be aware that supplements are not regulated so their quality, purity and potency may vary.
Finally, remember that supplements may help, but they are by no means the only way to help manage your arthritis symptoms. A healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, weight control and stress management can also make a big difference in your joint health and well-being.
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