Are Supplements effective for Joint Pain?

Caviarlieri | Published August 01, 2022

If you have joint pain from arthritis, you may be looking for ways to help to reduce the severity of your pain and also improve your joint health. There are a variety of nutritional supplements for joint pain available on the market, and often it may be very hard to ascertain which of those may be effective from those that likely aren’t.

Most supplements for joint health work by reducing inflammation or by protecting the cartilage in the joints. Cartilage is the material that rests between bones and prevents them from rubbing together. This cartilage will wear down over time, leading to osteoarthritis. This is a very common source of pain and disability as people age.

Supplements Known for Helping Joint Pain

  1. Vitamin D
    Scientists who study rheumatoid arthritis have found that people who have the condition often lack vitamin D. Low levels of this essential nutrient may lead to chronic pain. When you take it as a supplement daily, it could help your arthritis treatment work better.
  2. Turmeric
    Many researchers have studied turmeric and its compound curcumin. Curcumin appears to have a strong anti-inflammatory effect, which may help reduce symptoms in some cases.

    Many supplements containing turmeric will also contain black pepper, which may help the body absorb and use the turmeric effectively.

    However, there is currently not enough strong evidence to make any definite claims about curcumin’s benefits for joint pain. Its anti-inflammatory effect is well noted, and many people do take the supplement for its potential to relieve joint pain.
  3. Boswellia
    Boswellia, or frankincense, is another natural supplement that may be helpful in maintaining healthy joints. Like turmeric, Boswellia also has an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Reducing inflammation in areas such as the joints may help reduce pain. Boswellia may also work in tandem with other compounds, such as curcumin.

    The combination of curcumin and Boswellia may be helpful for people with joint pain or osteoarthritis who are worried about the potential side effects of NSAIDs.

    However, much of the research into these compounds has been from non-peer-reviewed studies, meaning that there is not enough strong evidence to make any definite claims about their safety or effectiveness.
  4. Tamarind Seed
    Tamarind seed may be another natural alternative to traditional joint supplements. The seed contains a number of antioxidants that have an anti-inflammatory effect and may support the joints. Some research suggests that it may even be anti-arthritic.

    One study in the journal found that tamarind seed extract actually works to protect the cartilage and bone by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. It does so while preventing degeneration of these cells.

    The study suggests that tamarind seed extract could be a potent anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, and anti-arthritic compound. Further studies are currently ongoing to confirm this.
  5. Type II Collagen
    Using the same protein found in healthy cartilage, type II collagen is believed to work with the immune system to preserve cartilage. Since joints contain cartilage, researchers have considered whether collagen supplements may be beneficial for joint pain.

    Some studies have shown improvement in joint function and pain, including one study that has concluded that type II collagen helped with pain from knee osteoarthritis.

    A 2017 review of supplements for osteoarthritis found evidence type II collagen improved pain in the short term, but not in the medium or long term, in people with osteoarthritis of the hand, hip, or knee.

  1. Krill Oil/Omega-3
    Krill oil, which comes from a crustacean called krill that’s similar to shrimp, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Research suggests that the omega-3 in krill oil may be easier for the body to absorb than omega-3 from fish oil.

    Omega-3 is known to reduce inflammation and help reduce pain. Therefore, some researchers have considered its use as a supplement for joint pain. Animal studies suggest that omega-3 from krill oil in particular reduces the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (specialized cells from the immune system) that trigger inflammation.
  2. Glucosamine and Chondroitin
    When it comes to health supplements, glucosamine and chondroitin are among the most popular. Worldwide, annual spending on these supplements is predicted to reach $3.5 billion by 2025. So one will think they must be highly effective.

    And yet the evidence is not so clear.

    Glucosamine and chondroitin, taken individually or in combination, are touted not only as relievers of joint pain but also as treatments to prevent joint disease. Yet a number of past studies have come to mixed conclusions; some studies, most looking at osteoarthritis of the knee, found that people felt modestly better taking glucosamine and/or chondroitin, but many have also found no benefit.
  • A 2018 review of previous research found that treating knee or hip osteoarthritis with glucosamine and chondroitin led to small improvements on a pain scale, but it wasn’t clear that the pain relief was actually meaningful.
  • A 2022 analysis of eight studies that included nearly 4,000 people with knee osteoarthritis found no convincing evidence that glucosamine and chondroitin provided major benefit.
  • The case for these supplements protecting joint health or preventing arthritis from worsening is similarly weak.

A landmark study of glucosamine and chondroitin

A 2016 study of glucosamine and chondroitin enrolled 164 patients with knee pain due to osteoarthritis and gave half of them a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin; the other half received an identical placebo pill. The study was stopped early for an unusual reason: those taking the supplement actually reported worse symptoms than those taking a placebo. This raises the possibility that taking glucosamine and chondroitin might make your joints feel worse than doing nothing.

Bottom Line

Supplements, like any medicine, come with risks. Some of the supplements or herbs which are recommended for joint pain like thunder god vine has unpleasant side effects that may outweigh any potential benefit to your joints. Chaparral, arnica, and homemade kombucha tea can be toxic to your liver. It is advisable for you to talk to your doctor before trying supplements of any kind, even if you have heard they are good for joint pain.