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Can Supplements Help To Ease Joint Pain?  

Posted on November 2, 2023 by Henry Ford Health Staff

Joints such as our knees and hips can hurt for many reasons, from overuse to arthritis. While there are many causes for joint pain, arthritis is one of the most common—it’s projected to affect 78 million people in the United States in 2024.

If you have painful joints, your doctor will most likely recommend anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy or surgery. Some people also turn to supplements to find relief. But are these over-the-counter remedies effective? 

“Although the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements, they are relatively safe. But scientific data about their effectiveness is mixed. Some supplements may even pose harmful side effects for certain individuals, but this is rare,” says Eddie El-Yussif, DO, FAAOS, an orthopedic surgeon at Henry Ford Health. 

How Supplements May Reduce Joint Pain

Many supplements claim to have benefits for joint health. But it’s not clear which ones offer pain relief. Dr. El-Yussif offers some guidance about supplements that may reduce joint soreness: 

  • Glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate: These compounds are naturally found in cartilage, the thin connective tissue that cushions our joints. Chondroitin sulfate helps cartilage retain water, improving its elasticity and shock-absorbing properties. 
  • Turmeric: This supplement reduces inflammation. It also contains antioxidants that neutralize free radicals, which can damage tissue. 
  • Fish oil: This dietary supplement contains omega-3 fatty acids, reducing inflammation and supporting cartilage health.
  • Fisetin: This is a naturally occurring compound in many foods, including strawberries, apples, grapes, onions and cucumbers. Like turmeric, it reduces inflammation and contains antioxidants to fight disease. 
  • Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): This compound can be found in fruits, vegetables, grains and animal protein. It helps your body make new connective tissue, which may deteriorate after an injury or from conditions like arthritis.
  • Boswellia: This plant extract (also called Indian frankincense) has been used as medicine in Africa and Asia for centuries. Some research has shown that it helps reduce joint pain, improve joint movement and slow cartilage loss. It may also help reduce joint inflammation associated with arthritis. 

“People can take supplements for joint pain along with standard treatments like anti-inflammatory medications, injections and physical therapy. Supplements may help some people who don’t want more invasive treatments, like cortisone injections or surgery, or who haven’t obtained relief from other treatment options,” says Dr. El-Yussif. 

Potential Risks Of Supplements 

Scientific evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of supplements is limited. “While some studies show a benefit, others have mixed or uncertain results,” says Dr. El-Yussif. 

While it’s rare, supplements can pose certain risks when taken in high doses. These risks can include:

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  • Allergic reactions: Some supplements can cause reactions in people with other allergies. For example, people with shellfish allergies should avoid glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate.
  • Bleeding: Some supplements, including glucosamine, cause blood thinning and increase the risk of bleeding. To avoid complications, people taking prescription blood thinners should talk with their doctor before taking supplements. People should also stop taking supplements before surgical procedures.
  • Dosage uncertainty: Because supplements are not FDA-approved, there’s no consensus of the ideal amount to take. But the larger the dose, the greater the risk of harmful side effects, like bleeding or organ damage, Dr. El-Yussif says.
  • Interactions with prescription medications: Supplements can interact with prescription medications. Interactions can increase or decrease supplements’ effectiveness or even cause harmful side effects. For example, supplements can disrupt the effectiveness of medications that prevent seizures and organ rejection.
  • Health risks: Some supplements can increase the risk of certain health conditions. For example, glucosamine increases the risk of glaucoma for people with a family history of the disease or aged 60 or older. Individuals with diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure are also at risk.

“If you’re considering taking supplements for joint pain, talk with your doctor first. Your physician can discuss the benefits of supplements and whether they pose any risks based on your medical history,” says Dr. El-Yussif.

 Reviewed by Eddie El-Yussif, DO, FAAOS, an orthopedic surgeon who sees patients at Henry Ford Macomb Health Center - Chesterfield and Henry Ford Orthopedics - Seville in Clinton Township. 

Categories : MoveWell

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