Choosing the right supplement to ease your arthritis pain and inflammation can be confusing. Which supplements are most effective? Of the many types of supplements available in stores and online, the following 4 have been well-studied for their ability to treat arthritis pain:
1. Curcumin (from turmeric root)
Evidence suggests the turmeric root has anti-inflammatory properties.1 The active component of turmeric, called curcumin, makes up only about 3% of turmeric, so you may need to eat a lot of turmeric to get noticeable benefits. An alternative to eating turmeric every day is to take a supplement.
2. Vitamin D
If you have arthritis pain or are at high risk for arthritis, your doctor may recommend a vitamin D supplement. (I prefer vitamin D3.) A blood test can determine whether you have a vitamin D deficiency.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with the development of osteoarthritis4 as well as autoimmune arthritis, such as psoriatic arthritis5 and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).6 Low vitamin D levels are also associated with more and/or worse rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.7,8 Other medical conditions, such as osteoporosis, muscle weakness, hip fractures, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, are also associated with low vitamin D levels.
It’s not yet clear whether vitamin D supplementation can prevent arthritis from developing or alleviate arthritis symptoms.4,9,10 People who have kidney disease, bone disease, certain cancers, or calcium disorders should talk to their doctors before taking a vitamin D supplement.11
3. Omega-3 fatty acids
Research suggests omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. Unless you eat fatty fish like salmon and mackerel two or more days a week, it can be challenging to get a therapeutic amount of omega 3 through food. Taking a supplement may help.
Most omega 3 supplements come in the form of fish oil. However, I recommend an omega 3 supplement derived from plants, such as flax seeds. A plant-based supplement helps avoid the risk of mercury contamination found in some poorly manufactured fish oil supplements. A plant-based omega-3 supplement may also be preferable if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Keep in mind that omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil can be different than those in plant-based sources. (Fish oil contains eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA] while flax seeds, for example, contain alpha-linolenic acid [ALA].) This difference may affect the dosage.
4. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate
Many supplement products aiming to treat arthritis contain both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. These substances are found naturally in human cartilage. Research regarding glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements is mixed,14-16 and doctors’ opinions of them vary. Positive clinical studies suggest they may provide modest pain relief by helping to rebuild worn-out cartilage in your arthritic joints.
Glucosamine should be avoided by anyone allergic to shellfish since it is derived from shrimp, crab, and other crustaceans.
In general, if you take any supplement for 2 to 6 months and don’t notice any relief from arthritis symptoms, check with your doctor for other options.
Opinions about the recommended doses for supplements can vary. Before starting a new one, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to make sure the supplement’s contents and the dosage is right for your condition and won’t interact with any other medications and supplements you take. Some supplements can cause serious health problems if they are taken at high doses or combined with other supplements and medications.17
Also, keep in mind that supplements are not a quick fix for your arthritis pain. They may take effect gradually—over weeks or months--and provide only a modest decrease in pain. When you combine supplements with other treatments, such as an anti-inflammatory diet and exercise, there may be more significant pain relief.