Arthritis is a debilitating condition that affects 350 million people worldwide. What you may not know is that the term arthritis doesn’t describe just one condition. In fact, there are over 100 types of this type of joint pain that can impact one’s quality of life.
The most common type of arthritis is known as osteoarthritis (OA). OA occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wear over time. As a result, the bones start to rub together causing pain and swelling. OA most commonly affects weight-bearing joints like those in the hands, knees, hip, and spine.
Treatments for osteoarthritis typically involve maintaining a healthy weight and staying active. These types of natural treatments along with certain medications can help improve joint pain and function.
Another common type of arthritis is known as rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This type of arthritis is an autoimmune disorder and chronic inflammatory condition. Unlike OA, RA can affect other parts of the body aside from the joints like the heart, skin, vision, and lungs.
RA can cause swelling and inflammation in the lining of the joints. This can cause bone erosion and joint deformity that reduces function of affected joints. There’s no cure for RA, but there are anti-inflammatory medicines that can reduce pain.
Along with prescribed treatments, there are also certain supplements that can help those with arthritis. Read below for information on the top ten supplements to help treat arthritis and how you can add them to your regimen today.
Top Ten Supplements for Arthritis
Avocado-soybean Unsaponifiables (ASU):
ASU is an extract formed from two-thirds soybean oil and one-third avocado oil. Various studies show its effectiveness in improving symptoms in those with OA.
A 2015 study shows that ASU can reduce pain and stiffness while improving joint function in those with OA. It also makes it easier for those suffering from RA to reduce their dependence on other pain medicines. Furthermore, a 2018 animal study looked at the impact of a form of ASU called Arthrocen on OA symptoms. Study results show that ASU has the potential to reduce joint inflammation and pain in those with end-stage OA.
ASU is a supplement in soft gel form and a dosage of 300 milligrams daily can be effective for treating OA symptoms. Although long-term safety of ASU is unknown, short-term use is likely safe in the recommended dosage. However, be sure to talk with your pharmacist and/or healthcare provider before using ASU.
Also known as Indian frankincense, Boswellia serrata is a gum resin from the bark of the Boswellia tree native in India. Gum resin extracts of this tree play a traditional role in folk medicine to treat chronic inflammatory conditions. The boswellic acid in the resin has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. For example, it can reduce joint swelling and pain as well as improving joint flexibility in those with osteoarthritis.
A 2018 study shows that a 12-week treatment of boswellic acid and curcumin can reduce pain in those with OA. However, experts note that the pain relief associated with BS may take about a month to show any significant improvement. But even though it’s not fast pain relief, pain improvement gets better with each passing month of BS use.
In capsule or tablet form, Boswellia serrata dosage is typically 300 to 400 milligrams three times daily. However, for those treating OA, 333 milligrams of extract three times daily is recommended. Meanwhile, 3600 milligrams of extract is recommended daily for those treating RA. Be sure to choose supplements with at least 60-percent boswellic acid content.
Potential side effects of taking Boswellia serrata may include diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain. Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use this supplement. Also, be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist before using this supplement. A quick consult with your healthcare provider can ensure this supplement doesn’t interact with any of your current medications.
When you think of capsaicin, spicy food may come to mind. This compound is the active ingredient in chili pepper and exhibits anti-inflammatory properties. This fact makes it no surprise that its effective in reducing inflammation and pain in those with arthritis.
Experts report that capsaicin works by first stimulating the pain and then decreasing pain signals in the body. Pain may increase at first, but then relieves the pain by downregulating a pain receptor often expressed in sensory neurons. A 2018 study shows that topical capsaicin is effective in reducing OA pain of the hand, knee, hip, or shoulder.
Capsaicin comes in fresh form or in a powdered form for consumption or in a topical form. Also, it’s considered safe for use in most people. Experts recommend a thin film of topical treatment three to four times daily to help relieve arthritic pain. There is a lack of clinical trials to confirm dosages of other forms of capsaicin. Those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or allergic to chili peppers should not use capsaicin.
This tropical woody vine with thorns resembling cat’s claws has a long history of health benefits. For over 500 years, cat’s claw helped treat viral infections, to boost the immune system, and to fight inflammation.
Cat’s claw works to treat RA by inhibiting a target of RA drugs known as tumor necrosis factor (TNF). By inhibiting TNF, the cat’s claw reduces inflammation and related pain. It’s most commonly used for improving symptoms of those with both osteoarthritis and RA. There are no randomized controlled trials on the use of cat’s claw in treating arthritis. However, there are some reports of improved arthritis symptoms after use of the supplement. Researchers need to study cat’s claw further to confirm the arthritic health benefits of this supplement.
You can consume the cat’s claw in the form of capsules, liquid, and tea bags. Typically, a dosage of 250 to 350 milligrams is recommended for immune system support. Some possible side effects may include headache, dizziness, vomiting, or low blood pressure. Also, those on high blood pressure medicine, blood thinners, or immunosuppressants should not take cat’s claw.
The golden spice turmeric is known for its bright golden color in Indian cuisine. However, about two to three percent of its mass consists of the potent compound curcumin. This anti-inflammatory polyphenol compound can help those with ailments such as metabolic syndrome. In addition, research shows that it can reduce inflammation and pain in those with arthritis.
In a 2018 animal study, results show that curcumin can help lessen collagen-induced arthritis inflammation. Researchers suggest that these results show that curcumin has the potential for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
Furthermore, a 2019 study looked at the effect of curcumin versus the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac in treating arthritis. Study results show that curcumin had similar pain-relieving benefits as diclofenac, but had fewer side effects and better tolerance.
Consumed in its natural form or as a supplement, it’s considered safe for human consumption without adverse side effects. The most common dosage of curcumin is one to three 500 milligram capsules daily with or without food. However, a dosage of 1500 to 2000 milligrams daily is most common for pain relief.
You may have heard of fatty fish like salmon and trout helping heart health. The omega-3 fatty acids from such foods have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can lower the risk of heart disease. It does this by helping to reduce inflammation, blood pressure, and blood clotting.
You can consume these same omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements. Two common types of omega-3 found in fish oil supplements are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
Their antioxidant properties can reduce the pain and inflammation of arthritis in those that take it daily. Research shows that EPA and DHA can help reduce joint pain, swelling, and stiffness in those with rheumatoid arthritis. It can help reduce the need for other pain relievers. By reducing pain, fish oil can improve function in those with osteoarthritis.
Studies show that an effective dose of fish oil for arthritis is up to 2.6 grams twice daily. And you should take fish oil capsules containing at least 30 percent EPA/DHA to treat arthritis.
When it comes to safety, fish oil has shown to be generally safe for most people. Just be sure to let your healthcare provider know you are taking them. This is because it could increase risk of bleeding in high doses and may affect those with fish or shellfish sensitivities.
Gamma linoleic acid:
Also known as GLA, gamma-linolenic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid found in green leafy vegetables and nuts. The body can’t make GLA, so you must consume it to reap its health benefits. The body converts any GLA taken as supplements to DGLA, which fights inflammation. And by consuming enough magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B3, B6, and C, you can help convert more GLA to DGLA.
Research shows that GLA is effective in reducing inflammation in those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In fact, one 2017 study shows that fish oil with or without GLA was effective in reducing RA symptoms.
GLA is found in capsule or oil form, and is effective in treating arthritis in up to 2 to 3 grams daily in divided doses. It may take one to three months for GLA to take effect in arthritis treatment. GLA is safe for consumption for most with few side effects. However, those taking blood thinners like warfarin should not take it.
Known for its digestive properties in reducing nausea, ginger is also effective for fighting arthritis pain. It holds anti-inflammatory and antirheumatic properties in its bioactive compounds called gingerols and shogaols.
Research shows that the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger can help relieve joint pain in those with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The medicinal properties of ginger come from the root, rhizome, or stem. A 2019 study shows that ginger causes alterations in gene expression that help decrease RA symptoms.
Consumed in its natural form or as a supplement, it’s considered safe for human consumption for most people. Some minor side effects for some people include heartburn, diarrhea, or stomach discomfort. A dosage of up to 2 grams in three divided doses or in 4 cups of tea per day shows effectiveness in treating arthritis symptoms. However, before taking ginger, be sure to talk with your pharmacist as it can interact moderately with a variety of medications.
Green-lipped mussel extract:
Like fish oil, this marine-derived fatty acid supplement is new on the scene in fighting inflammation. Also, known as Perna canaliculus, green-lipped mussel extract proves to be effective in helping those with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
A 2017 study shows that such early research does not show significant clinical improvement in moderate to severe osteoarthritis symptoms. However, results did show that there was a significant reduction in pain reliever use in the green-lipped mussel extract group versus the placebo group.
Green-lipped mussel extract (GLME) shows to be as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). However, unlike NSAIDs, GLME may help heal stomach ulcers instead of causing them. A dosage of 900 to 1200 milligrams daily shows effectiveness in treating osteoarthritis symptoms. Meanwhile, a dosage of 300 to 350 milligrams three times daily shows effectiveness in treating RA.
Some side effects noted from taking this supplement include gastrointestinal discomfort and short-term worsening of arthritic pain. Those with hypersensitivity to shellfish should avoid taking green-lipped mussel extract. Also, due to limited safety studies confirming safety, pregnant women should also avoid this supplement.
Also known as S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine, SAM-e is known for its effectiveness in helping to treat conditions like depression, liver disease, and particularly osteoarthritis. It’s made from the amino acid methionine that is naturally in the body.
Research on SAM-e and depression was the outlet through which its effectiveness in treating arthritis revealed itself. Some of the subjects taking SAM-e had improvements in joint pain after taking it. Studies on SAM-e and arthritis show that it’s just as effective as NSAIDs in reducing pain. However, the bonus is that SAM-e shows fewer side effects than NSAIDs.
The benefits of SAM-e are to thought to derive from its antioxidant properties. Some research shows that the effectiveness of SAM-e may reveal itself after only a week after taking it. Experts suggest that a typical dosage of SAM-e for osteoarthritis is 600 to 1200 milligrams daily split into three doses throughout the day.
There have not been too many safety studies on SAM-e. However, in one long-term study using SAM-e for about two years, there were no serious side effects. There may be some minor side effects in some people taking it such as nausea and digestive upset. Pregnant women should not use SAM-e since there isn’t enough research evidence to confirm its safety in this population.
Also, those with bipolar disorder and those with weakened immune systems should not take SAM-e. Finally, some medications like Parkinson’s disease medicines and some antidepressants, for example, may interact with SAM-e. Therefore, be sure to talk with a qualified pharmacist and healthcare provider before starting on SAM-e.
Final thoughts about Supplements for Arthritis
Arthritis encompasses a variety of joint-related conditions that can greatly impact the quality of life. Current treatment of such conditions includes maintaining a healthy weight, exercise, as well as anti-inflammatory medicines. However, if you’re still not seeing an improvement in symptoms, there are some supplements that can help.
The supplements mentioned above can reduce the pain and stiffness that can impact mobility. In turn, they can help you feel better enough to engage in more daily activities and improve your quality of life. However, remember that before starting any new supplement, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider to ensure safety.
Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, health editor, and founder of LighttrackNutrition.com. She has been a dietitian since 2010, and has helped thousands of patients in arenas like weight management, fitness, long-term care, rehab, and bariatric nutrition. Staci has also been writing and editing since 2011 for such websites as CDiabetes, Anirva, and Casa de Sante, to name a few and has been a featured expert for websites like Shape.com, ThisisInsider.com, and Eat This Not That. Staci hopes to provide others accessible, accurate, and practical health and wellness information so they can make lasting healthy lifestyle changes.