In the United States, there are over 32.5 million people with osteoarthritis (OA), becoming the most common cause of disability in adults. About 80% of people over the age of 50 live with some degree of OA, and for people over 70, it’s nearly universal. The chronic condition is a degenerative joint disease that leads to the loss of cartilage, tough connective tissue for cushioning the body’s joints. OA can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, and possible loss of joint function, with most cases found in the knees, hips, and shoulders.
Many people with OA, and other forms of arthritis, ease the pain by incorporating dietary supplements into their diets, such as glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). Available in pharmacies and some grocery stores without a prescription, these supplements are unlike most joint relief drugs because they are anti-inflammatory, non-steroidal, and have almost no side effects.
Much like we did for increasing your collagen, we have broken down each supplement to help you understand their effects and benefits regarding joint pain relief.
As we age, our bodies produce less glucosamine, leading to the breakdown of joints and cartilage. Glucosamine provides the building blocks for growth, repair, and maintenance of connective tissues, while acting as the starting point for the synthesis of glycosaminoglycans, which are the core of tissues including collagen and the bone matrix. It can maintain the lubrication and shock absorption of joints by attracting water to replicate the joint’s jelly-like nature.
Glucosamine is also a structural component to other tissues (ligaments, tendons, heart valves, hair, and nails). Its compounds, glucosamine sulfate and glucosamine hydrochloride, are relatively well absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract, extending its reach to the joints.
With its little to no side effects, glucosamine is a safe alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), especially for patients who cannot take NSAIDs but require long-term treatment. The NSAIDs can relieve pain faster but can cause more serious side effects, such as gastrointestinal bleeding, heart attack, or stroke.
As one of the most well-known joint pain relief supplements, chondroitin can be found in the form of chondroitin sulfate in joints. Its primary function is to absorb water to keep the cartilage hydrated and slow the erosion of cartilage. Cartilage erosion occurs by certain enzymes, diminishing the cartilage’s elasticity and leading to joint stiffness.
Similar to glucosamine, chondroitin is a natural compound found in healthy cartilage that can reduce pain, stiffness, and swelling. Even though it is not absorbed nearly as well as glucosamine, chondroitin is a great complement to the compound, with some patients taking a combination of both chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine.
In fact, the most comprehensive long-term study of any supplement is the Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT). The first phase of GAIT discovered that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate showed the greatest relief among a subgroup of participants, primarily those with moderate-to-severe knee pain.
Because of its many similarities to glucosamine, chondroitin is a great alternative to NSAIDs.
Preventing fluid from leaving the joint, hyaluronic acid has two options for treatment: injection and oral. Most people tend to move forward with the injection as the oral ingestion has not shown many positive results. However, it must be noted the hyaluronic acid injections only have a temporary effect on pain and can require up to 5 injections. It also relies heavily on the type of hyaluronic acid that is used.
Besides joint pain relief, hyaluronic acid provides other benefits for the body. Since half of all hyaluronic acid in the body is found in your skin, it can help your skin look more supple by binding with water to help retain moisture. Another benefit of hyaluronic acid is that it can help heal wounds faster by regulating inflammation levels and alerting the body to concentrate its blood vessel production around the damage.
As the third most abundant mineral in our bodies, MSM has not been studied for arthritis treatment as much as the previous 3 supplements. However, MSM is widely considered the main source of organic sulfur. The sulfur from MSM strengthens joint tissues and maintains elasticity, raising it to be a critical building block for cartilage.
Stored in every one of the body’s cells, the main function of MSM is enhancing the walls of cells to be permeable, allowing toxins, free radicals, and other unwanted materials to be flushed out. It also reduces inflammation, especially when combined with glucosamine. The combination reduces disfiguring and inflammation within the joints.
MSM goes beyond joint relief as it can improve skin health, strengthen hair and nails, increase energy, and initiate detoxification.
Though there are no long-term studies to confirm the effectiveness of these supplements individually, they each are well-tolerated and safe to use.