Are Joint Pain Supplements Worth It?
Managing joint pain takes a multifaceted approach – for many patients, one of those approaches includes supplements. The question is, however, are they worth it? The answer to this question is a resounding Yes and No.
I recently read an article that appeared online in Joint Health Magazine that discusses common supplements that are taken for joint pain and describes why they may be helpful and what the research actually says about their effectiveness.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Supplements
Glucosamine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is found in the fluid that lubricates your joints. Most of the glucosamine found in high-quality supplements comes from the shells of crustaceans while lower quality glucosamine is entirely man-made in the laboratory. It is important to note that natural glucosamine that comes from crustaceans has a much higher bio-availability than does the synthetic form.
The main reason that people take glucosamine supplements is to support the health of joint cartilage which acts as a cushion between our bones. Evidence suggests that as we age, glucosamine levels decrease while cartilage thins. Taking glucosamine supplements seems like a reasonable step to combat the loss of naturally occurring glucosamine.
Glucosamine is often bundled with chondroitin in a single joint support supplement.
Chondroitin sulfate is a sulfated glycosaminoglycan that is found in the cartilage of joints in the body. Chondroitin can be naturally extracted from cartilage of animals such as sharks, pigs, and cows, or it can be man-made.
Evidence on the effectiveness of glucosamine and chondroitin is mixed. Studies have shown that the pain-reducing effect of glucosamine and chondroitin is comparable to some NSAIDs. Several studies show that the combination of two supplements is effective when taken in early stages of osteoarthritis.
SAM-e is a naturally occurring chemical that is produced in the liver. SAM-e acts as a pain reliever that is taken as a supplement to relieve the pain associated with osteoarthritis. SAM-e also has anti-inflammatory properties which help with many joint irritation issues. Studies suggest that SAM-e may also stimulate the growth of joint cartilage.
Studies also show that SAM-e is just as effective as some NSAIDs in the management of osteoarthritis symptoms.
MSM is a naturally occurring compound that is not only found in the human body but also of fresh fruits and vegetables. People take MSM for joint pain and stiffness as well as a number of other chronic conditions.
Research indicates that patients feel the most benefit with MSM when it is combined with glucosamine where they produce both an anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect in osteoarthritis.
Fish oil (Omega-3 fatty acids)
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for maintaining our health and they also are commonly used to help manage joint pain. Fish oil blocks inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins and other processes in the body converts them into resolvins which are powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals.
A recent study that was published in the journal Surgical Neurology indicated that in a study of 125 participants, 59% discontinued taking prescription NSAID medications for pain after they began supplementing Omega-3 fatty acids.
Conversely, the American Journal of Orthopedics published a study that rebuked any benefits of taking Omega-3 fatty acids.
Should I Use Joint Supplements?
Taking supplements is a personal decision and has to fall in line with your philosophies regarding health. Every day in my practice I run into patients who swear by their supplements and I also talk to patients on the other end of the spectrum who not only don’t believe in supplements but who don’t feel that diet plays any role what-so-ever in your health.
I would caution you to check with your doctor before taking supplements if you are also taking prescription medications. Also, if you are going to take supplements, buy the good stuff. Inexpensive or cheap supplements are loaded with laboratory-made components that your body has difficulty processing. If your body can’t break it down it definitely won’t benefit your health.
Finally, don’t fall prey to exaggerated claims – there are no miracles or fast fixes when it comes to supplements.
So regarding supplements, should you take them or not? I am of the opinion that it is always worth it to try supplements and see how you respond. Many patients do experience improvement despite the fact that science doesn’t always support the claims of the supplement in question. I recommend supplements to help support my patient’s recovery and most of them feel the benefits.