By: Robert M. Blair, Ph.D., Strategic Research Scientist
According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints that affects approximately 27 million Americans. This condition results in the breakdown of cartilage covering the ends of bones which allows the bones to rub together and cause pain, swelling and loss in the range of movement over time. Thankfully, there are supplements for joint discomfort that can help alleviate the pain!
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 10% of men and 18% of women older than 60 years of age suffer from osteoarthritis and that 80% of those will develop limitations in joint movement. The WHO further calls osteoarthritis “one of the ten most disabling diseases in developed countries”.
The prevalence of osteoarthritis and its impact on one’s quality of life, make safe and effective treatments important. The Arthritis Foundation reports that the main treatments for osteoarthritis include lifestyle changes (increased physical activity and losing weight) and medications for pain and inflammation. While an important part of the treatment regimen, these medications are often accompanied by unwanted side effects. As such, many osteoarthritis sufferers choose a more natural approach.
Numerous studies have been conducted on the benefits of various dietary supplements for joint discomfort because of their anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A recent review paper  examined the benefits of many of these dietary supplements. Some of these are briefly outlined below.
Supplements for Joint Discomfort
Curcumin is the active component of the spice turmeric. It is also one of the most studied dietary supplement ingredients for joint discomfort. According to this new review paper, multiple studies have demonstrated the benefits of curcumin on joint pain. In one study, consumption of turmeric extracts (2 g/day) reduced pain when walking on both level surfaces and on stairs. Another study reported that consumption of a turmeric extract (1,500 mg/d) for 4 weeks alleviated pain similarly to 1,200 mg/d ibuprofen. Additionally, multiple studies with branded curcumin products have shown benefits for symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and physical function.
Boswellia, more commonly known as frankincense, has long been used in traditional medicine systems for inflammatory conditions like arthritis. According to the review paper , one study reported that consumption of a Boswellia extract (1,000 mg) for 8 weeks reduced knee pain and improved range of motion and walking distance. The active ingredients in Boswellia appear to be the boswellic acids, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory benefits. The review paper cites two studies showing that consumption of Boswellia supplements enriched with additional boswellic acids improved pain and physical function scores.
Pine bark extracts are a rich source of oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs). Probably the best known and well-studied pine bark extract is Pycnogenol®. According to this new review paper, studies with Pycnogenol have repeatedly shown that Pycnogenol supplementation improved osteoarthritis symptoms. In one study, consumption of Pycnogenol (100 mg/d) for 3 months improved osteoarthritis index scores and walking distance, while reducing the use of pain medications. A similar study showed that Pycnogenol supplementation improved pain, stiffness, and activity scores after 3 months.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Like curcumin and pine bark extracts, the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, primarily those found in fish oil, have been frequently studied for the benefits for joint discomfort. One study reported that consumption of 1,000 mg or 2,000 mg of fish oil similarly improved pain scores and walking speed after 8 weeks. A longer, 2-year study demonstrated that consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA improved both pain and physical functions scores.
Unsaponifiables are the portion of oils, in this case avocado and soybean oils, that are left behind during soap making. According to this review paper, one study reported that daily consumption of avocado/soybean unsaponifiables for 3 months reduced pain scores and reduced the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), while another study showed that consumption of avocado oil (100 mg) and soybean oil (200 mg) daily for 6 months decreased the WOMAC osteoarthritis index by 50%. It is thought that the active component of the avocado/soybean unsaponifiables are the sterols, including beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
It is clear from this review paper that several dietary supplement ingredients can be an important part of a regimen designed to alleviate joint discomfort and improve one’s quality of life.
Wang A, Leong DJ, Cardoso L, Sun HB. Nutraceuticals and osteoarthritis pain. Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2018 (Article in Press); https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323378368_Nutraceuticals_and_osteoarthritis_pain