If you’re like most people, you don’t think about your joints until they get stiff and achy. But you should give them some attention before they cause you discomfort in order to keep them healthy and guard against injury for years to come.
What Are Joints?
Joints are the tissues that connect bones and help support movements throughout the body. They are what help you bend your elbows and knees, and flex your fingers and feet. Most of the joints designed for movement are called synovial joints because they have a small, fluid-filled space between the surfaces called a synovial cavity. This fluid acts as a lubricant, cushioning the joints so the bones don’t rub together. Cartilage, the spongy tissue on the end of each bone, reduces friction and acts as a cushion between joints and helps support our weight when we move. Cartilage is a tough but flexible tissue that has two components: water and matrix. About 85 percent of cartilage is water, but it decreases to about 70 percent in older people. The matrix is comprised of collagens, proteoglycans, and non-collagenous proteins. Cartilage lacks a blood supply, making it slow to heal.
Common Causes of Joint Pain
Joint pain affects millions of people every single day and is a symptom tied to dozens of different disorders. One of the most common causes of joint pain is osteoarthritis (OA). According to the American College of Rheumatology, OA is most common in adults over the age of 40. Joint pain from OA results from the breakdown of cartilage that cushions joints. Aging, carrying too much weight, and other factors can cause wear and tear on your joints, and lead to arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the second most common form, and it causes pain, inflammation, and fluid build-up as the body’s immune system attacks the membrane that lines the joints. RA can deform the joints over time.
Pain relievers such as acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are usually the first choice for pain relief, but they can cause gastrointestinal upset, high blood pressure, and liver or kidney problems. However, there are other options available.
Glucosamine & Chondroitin
Glucosamine produced in the body provides natural building blocks for growth, repair, and maintenance of cartilage. The way glucosamine affects arthritis is unclear, but researchers believe naturally occurring glucosamine helps protect the cartilage in your joints. Several studies suggest that supplementing with glucosamine can reduce the breakdown of collagen. Glucosamine also reduces inflammation. However, much of the research on it involves simultaneously supplementing with chondroitin, a similar compound that’s involved in the production and maintenance of healthy cartilage. Conversely, many of the studies done on chondroitin include glucosamine. In one study published in PLOS One, researchers conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to assess the effects of glucosamine hydrochloride plus chondroitin sulfate for 28 days compared with a placebo in healthy, overweight adults. They found that the combination reduced inflammation, as well as joint pain and functional impairment.
Naturally found in the fluid that lubricates and cushions joints, hyaluronic acid can help alleviate joint pain. When the joints are lubricated, the bones are less likely to
rub against each other, causing discomfort. Traditionally, hyaluronic acid has been injected into joints as a means to relieve discomfort. Research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows, however, that it offered only modest results. Other research shows that pairing hyaluronic acid injections with supplements improves pain-relieving benefits. More recently, studies have shown that oral supplementation of hyaluronic acid on its own can enhance joint lubrication. In a study published in Rheumatology International, researchers examined the use of oral hyaluronic acid or a placebo for three months in people with knee osteoarthritis who were overweight. At the end of the study, those who took the hyaluronic acid had significant improvement in pain, function, and the level of inflammation. Another study, published in Journal of Medical Food, found that people with knee pain who took oral hyaluronic acid for four weeks had an improvement in knee pain
compared to those who took a placebo. There are also studies showing it can improve bone density, protect against osteoporosis, and increase muscle strength. Many hyaluronic acid supplements are paired with glucosamine and chondroitin for better treatment.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It acts as the glue that holds our body together. There are about 16 types of collagen, but about 80 percent belong to Type I, Type II, and III. Type II collagen is the most abundant type of collagen that lines the joints. This smooth cartilage type keeps our joints working smoothly and painlessly. The normal wear and tear that comes with training and age can lead to breakdown of joint cartilage, promoting joint inflammation, joint pain, and immobility. A recent clinical trial published in The Eurasian Journal of Medicine illustrated that when OA patients took a Type II collagen supplement with their standard dose of acetaminophen, there were significant improvements in joint pain, joint function, and quality of life.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) from fish oils, are known for reducing inflammation. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition looked at the benefits of fish oil for arthritis treatment, particularly the role of EPA and DHA in reducing joint pain and swelling. They found not only that EPA and DHA from marine sources helped reduce joint pain and swelling, but also that these omega-3 fatty acids helped improve morning stiffness in the joints, one of the symptoms of RA. Another study found that daily supplementation with omega-3s had such a positive effect on RA that it reduced the need for NSAIDs.
Boswellia is an Ayurvedic herb that has traditionally been used to treat inflammatory diseases. Also known as Indian frankincense, it comes from the Boswellia serrate tree, native to India. Studies show that boswellia inhibits the synthesis of leukotrienes, the agents responsible for inflammation. Research has also shown that it can help reduce pain and swelling, and improve mobility in people with arthritis or OA. It appears to be especially helpful in easing symptoms of OA in the knee.
Traditionally used in Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat arthritis, curcumin, a key compound of turmeric, blocks inflammatory cytokines and enzymes. Studies show that curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties and modifies immune system responses. Dozens of studies have shown that turmeric is more effective at preventing joint inflammation than reducing joint inflammation. An additional benefit is that turmeric also decreases the pain in RA patients. In a study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging, daily turmeric supplementation was shown to have not only anti-inflammatory properties but also analgesic properties comparable to ibuprofen.
Before choosing a supplement, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about other medications you’re taking so they can check for potential interactions. Some joint health supplements can interact with certain medications such as blood thinners.
Our Favorite Products
Irwin Naturals 3-in-1 Joint Formula combines nutrients, oils, and botanical extracts to promote joint comfort. Glucosamine and Chondroitin are included to help rebuild cartilage, and help maintain joint structure and mobility.
The Vitamin Shoppe BioCell Collagen II with Hyaluronic Acid contains naturally occurring
collagen type II, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid to support joint health and enhance joint lubrication.
Natural Factors Turmeric & Bromelain for Muscle & Joint Support combines turmeric extract and bromelain to reduce inflammation associated with muscle and joint pain.
Arthur Andrew Serrétia is a protein-digesting enzyme that has been shown to promote a normal, healthy inflammatory response, benefitting joint pain and mobility.
Terry Naturally Curamin Extra Strength contains BCM-95 Curcumin, which absorbs better than plain curcumin, as well as pure boswellia for pain.
These products can all be found in Vitamin Shoppe stores.