Eleven Joint Supplements You May Not Have Tried

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by Support on June 16, 2011

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11 Joint Supplements You Haven’t Tried (or have you?)

If you suffer from osteoarthritis pain, you’ll probably try anything to ease stiffness and discomfort. Glucosamine is the most well-known, but many other natural arthritis remedies work just as well. From plant bark to spices to shellfish, these joint supplements could become an important part of your arthritis regimen. Read on to learn about their effectiveness and how to take them safely…

A lot of controversy has arisen over common joint supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin, spurred by large studies that questioned their effectiveness at easing osteoarthritis pain. But those aren’t the only natural arthritis remedies out there. An array of natural supplements reduce pain, stiffness and joint inflammation. Some are traditional herbs and spices that have been used for centuries; others were recently proven effective by modern science. Most can be taken with or without medications.

“Whether or not you’re taking prescription or non-prescription osteoarthritis pain relievers, it may be worthwhile to turn to [these] supplements,” says David Pisetsky, M.D., Ph.D., chief of rheumatology, allergy and clinical immunology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

But just because a supplement is labeled ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s safe, Pisetsky warns. Talk to your doctor about proper dosage, potential allergies and drug interactions first. “It’s possible to take too much, and many supplements can have side effects,” Pisetsky says. “Hiding [them] from your doctor can affect the success of your treatment.”

With that in mind, here are 11 joint supplements worth considering.

Joint Supplement #1: Digestive Enzymes

Digestive EnzymesProteolytic enzymes help you digest protein. Some come from animal sources (trypsin and chymotrypsin are also made by your pancreas), while others are derived from foods (papain from papaya and bromelain from pineapple). These enzymes may reduce pain and inflammation and remove cellular waste products associated with osteoarthritis pain, according to a 2008 study by Cardiff University in Wales. Don’t take these enzymes if you’re also on prescription blood thinners or having surgery in less than two weeks, Mangrum says. Be careful if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) because enzymes can irritate the gastrointestinal tract. And steer clear if you’re allergic to pineapples or papayas because you may have a reaction to their enzymes too.

Recommended dosage: “Most [of these] products are made of a combination of enzymes, and there’s no standardized dose,” Mangrum says. “It’s generally best to find a product from a high-quality supplier and use the amount recommended on the bottle.”

Look for the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Verified seal. The nonprofit organization tests supplements for quality, purity and consistency. Enzymes are best when taken with water, between meals and 60 minutes apart from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, which are enzyme inhibitors.

Joint Supplement #2: Pycnogenol

Pycnogenol Joint SupplementThat is the brand name for an antioxidant-rich water extract of bark from the French maritime pine; a tree grown in coastal southwest France. Pycnogenol supplements may have short-term benefits in relieving osteoarthritis pain, some studies have shown. The compound reduced symptoms of knee OA by 55%, and stiffness levels dropped by 53%, in a 2009 study by Chieti-Pescara University in Italy. As a result, participants trimmed their use of NSAIDs by 58%, the study found. The capsule generally has few side effects, but it may reduce blood sugar levels. So if you have diabetes or hypoglycemia, or are taking diabetes medications or blood thinners, talk to your doctor before using it, Mangrum advises.

Recommended dosage: In the Italian study, 100 milligrams (mg) per day provided the best results. Although it’s a trademarked product, it’s available from a wide variety of supplement manufacturers.

Joint Supplement #3: Boswellia Serrata

Boswellia SerrataExtracts from the boswellia plant, also known as frankincense, have been used as a joint remedy for centuries as part of India’s Ayurvedic medical tradition. “Studies have also shown that a specific boswellia extract, known as 5-Loxin, may improve joint health by reducing the age-related wear and tear of cartilage,” adds Steven V. Joyal, M.D., vice president of scientific and medical affairs for the nonprofit Life Extension Foundation in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

When 70 patients took 5-Loxin as joint supplements for 90 days, they ‘significantly’ reduced osteoarthritis pain and improved physical function, according to a 2009 study published in Arthritis Research & Therapy.

Recommended dosage: “Seventy-five milligrams of boswellia extract daily is well-tolerated and safe, without known drug interactions,” Joyal says.

Joint Supplement #4: Propolis

Propolis Joint SupplementMade by bees to seal their hives, this gummy mixture of plant resins, oils and waxes contains amino acids, minerals, vitamins, pollen and anti-inflammatory compounds known as bioflavonoids. Although no human trials have been conducted, propolis extract has improved arthritis symptoms and decreased physical weakness in rats.

“The flavonoids in propolis can be anti-inflammatory and may help with mild pain relief,” says internist Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., author of Pain Free 1-2-3 (McGraw-Hill).

Propolis may interact with a variety of medications, including anticoagulants, antibiotics, anti-cancer drugs, anti-inflammatories, immunosuppressants and osteoporosis drugs. Severe allergic reactions are also possible, especially in people allergic to bee stings.

Recommended dosage: Propolis is available at different potencies in many forms, including tablet, capsule, ointment, powder and extract. Recommended amounts can vary, depending on any allergies or medications you’re taking.

“Follow the package [recommendation] and talk to your physician for a specific dose,” Teitelbaum says.

Joint Supplement #5: Green-Lipped Mussel Extract

Green Lipped Mussel ExtractExtract from this New Zealand shellfish shows promise in easing osteoarthritis pain in several studies, including a 2008 research review by the University of Southampton in England. Although scientists are still exploring why mussels might help OA, some speculate they slow cartilage damage while reducing inflammation. However, side effects – stomach upset, skin rashes and even gout, a form of arthritis – have been reported by some people.

Recommended dosage: Follow package instructions. About 210 mg per day of an oil extract or 1,150 mg per day of freeze-dried powder may reduce joint tenderness and morning stiffness, according to one study reviewed by the University of Southampton researchers.

Joint Supplement #6: Devil”s Claw

Devils ClawA traditional South African plant in the sesame family, this herbal remedy relieves pain similar to NSAIDs and prescription anti-inflammatory drugs, according to Mangrum. The active ingredients are “flavonoids and plant phenols that inhibit inflammation and pain in the joints affected by osteoarthritis,” he says. They also have antioxidant properties, he adds. “Side effects are generally rare and can include headache or tinnitus [ringing in the ears],” Mangrum says.

Recommended dosage: Take a daily extract with 50-60 mg of the main active ingredient, harpagoside, Mangrum suggests.

Joint Supplement #7: White Willow Bark

White Willow BarkSalicin, a chemical like aspirin, gives this remedy its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. “Research has shown willow bark to be safe and effective for treating osteoarthritis of the hip and knee,” and may also help with back pain, Teitelbaum says.

Side effects tend to be mild, but stomach upset or bleeding and ulcers are possible. Taking more than the recommended dose could lead to skin rash, stomach inflammation, nausea, vomiting, kidney inflammation and tinnitus (ringing in ears). Check with your doctor if you’re taking beta blockers, diuretics or blood thinners, Mangrum says. Don’t take willow bark if you’re allergic to aspirin.

Recommended dosage: 60-240 mg per day, Mangrum says.

Joint Supplement #8: Ginger

GingerThis flavorful root is also a time-honored remedy for osteoarthritis pain. “It inhibits the production of key inflammatory chemicals in the body, helping reduce joint pain,” Teitelbaum says. “It’s considered safe and isn’t known to interact with any prescription medicines,” he adds. Large amounts can cause heartburn or stomach upset.

Recommended dosage: Take powdered ginger capsules or drink ginger tea according to package instructions. Or else chew 2-3 cubes of candied ginger cubes or eat 3-6 slices of pickled ginger (like you’d find in a sushi restaurant) as joint supplements daily, Teitelbaum says.

Joint Supplement #9: Curcumin

Curcumin“This active ingredient in the Indian spice turmeric, a bright-yellow member of the ginger family, is a powerful anti-inflammatory and pain reliever,” Teitelbaum says.

“Several animal studies have suggested it may help prevent damage to cartilage, there’s a chance of mild side effects like nausea and diarrhea¬† but that’s very rare”, Teitelbaum says.

Recommended dosage: Look for turmeric capsules with standardized curcumin content, and take it according to package instructions, usually 400-600 mg up to three times per day. Or add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric to a serving of food.

Joint Supplement #10: Vitamin D

Vitamin D“A deficiency in this important nutrient could play a role in osteoarthritis,” says Stella Metsovas, a clinical nutritionist in Southern California. “Vitamin D helps the body conquer pro-inflammatory reactions, so getting this critical nutrient in your daily regimen is key to preventing osteoarthritis,” Metsovas says.

Research conducted over the past decade suggests that low levels of vitamin D can worsen knee osteoarthritis. When the knees of 880 randomly selected people were viewed with an MRI, those with higher blood levels of vitamin D had healthier cartilage, according to a 2009 study published in Arthritis Rheumatology.

Recommended dosage: You can get some vitamin D from food (such as fatty fish) and sunlight (which produces the vitamin when it hits your skin), but many people still need a supplement. “At least 800 International Units (IU) per day is required for those wanting osteoarthritic prevention,” Metsovas says.

Joint Supplement #11: Vitamin K

Vitamin K“This vitamin regulates cartilage growth,” Metsovas says. It may repair joints or prevent further damage, easing osteoarthritis pain. Women with higher blood levels of vitamin K had fewer osteoarthritis markers in their knee and hand joints, a 2006 Boston University study found.

“The best way to get vitamin K is through food,” Metsovas says. “It’s found in dark leafy green veggies like kale, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, parsley and romaine lettuce.”

Doctors often advise avoiding vitamin K if you’re taking the anticoagulant warfarin (Coumadin), because it can interfere with the drug’s effects.

Recommended dosage: There’s no recommended dietary allowance for vitamin K, but adult women should get 90 micrograms (mcg) per day, according to the National Institutes of Health. That’s easy enough if you eat your veggies: A half cup of cooked broccoli has about 315 mcg, and a half cup of boiled Swiss chard has about 350 mcg.

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