If you have knee osteoarthritis, you may be wondering if taking a supplement can help ease your pain. A lot of research about supplements is mixed. The most encouraging research tends to focus on 4 specific supplements.

Once the knee joint cartilage degenerates, it's irreversible. But treatment can ease symptoms and slow degeneration. Watch: Knee Osteoarthritis Video

While these supplements are considered generally safe,1 they may interact with other medications or supplements you are taking. Talk with your doctor before starting a new supplement to make sure the dosage amount is safe for you. It can take up to 3 months to know if a supplement works for you. Also, keep in mind that any supplement will probably only have a modest effect on your knee pain.1 Supplements are best used in combination with long-established treatments, such as exercising to build muscle and losing excess weight.

See Dietary Supplements for Treating Arthritis

4 supplements that may ease arthritis pain

These supplements seem to have anti-inflammatory properties and may decrease arthritic knee pain.

1. Curcumin
The chemical compound curcumin is found in turmeric, a plant root used in fresh or spice form to flavor cooking. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties and seems to effectively treat knee arthritis symptoms.2-5

Curcumin accounts for only about 3% to 5% of turmeric,6,7 so a supplement may be the best way to get anti-inflammatory benefits from this substance. Look for products labeled as containing 95% curcuminoids.

See Turmeric and Curcumin for Arthritis

2. Ginger
Like turmeric, ginger is also a plant root. In fact, ginger and turmeric are part of the same plant family, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that ginger also has anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce your knee pain.8-10 Ginger is available as a supplement but can also be used fresh in cooking or as a tea.

See Add Ginger to Help Arthritis Pain

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3. Omega 3 fatty acids
Research suggests eating foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids can reduce knee arthritis pain and improve knee function.11 Most omega 3 supplements come in the form of fish oil, but some are plant-based, such as walnuts and flaxseeds. If you’re not interested in supplements, you can also try following an anti-inflammatory diet that’s rich in foods like fish and dark, leafy greens.

See The Difference Between Omega-3 and Omega-6 and Knee Arthritis Pain

4. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate
Supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are quite popular in the US.1 They are believed to promote cartilage formation and repair and have anti-inflammatory properties. However, research is mixed about the benefits, with some studies suggesting they provide modest pain relief and improved knee function and other studies show no benefits.

See Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate Supplements for Osteoarthritis

These supplements are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, so they don’t target the knee specifically. They may also provide symptoms relief for osteoarthritis in other joints, such as the ankle and hip.

Vitamin D does not reduce knee pain

One supplement that doesn’t seem to help reduce knee arthritis symptoms is vitamin D. A 2-year, randomized, controlled study of 400 participants found no difference in knee pain or cartilage thickness between people who vitamin D supplements and those who took a placebo.12

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Read labels and use caution

In the United States, supplements are regulated like food rather than medicine. The FDA does not test whether or not supplements are effective in treating any medical conditions, and manufacturers are barred from making health claims on their product labels.

The FDA does require that US-based supplement manufacturers make sure their products are safe and labeled accurately. You may prefer to buy US-manufactured supplements rather than supplements manufactured in other countries, where regulations may be different. You can also look for brands that carry the Good Manufacturing Practices seal, such as USP and NSF certified. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what brands they think are most reliable.

Learn more:

Do Curcumin Supplements Have Drawbacks?

The Ins and Outs of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

References

  • 1.Liu X, Machado GC, Eyles JP, Ravi V, Hunter DJ. Dietary supplements for treating osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Feb;52(3):167-175. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-097333. Epub 2017 Oct 10. Review. PubMed PMID: 29018060.
  • 2.Henrotin Y, Priem F, Mobasheri A. Curcumin: a new paradigm and therapeutic opportunity for the treatment of osteoarthritis: curcumin for osteoarthritis management. SpringerPlus. 2013;2:56. doi:10.1186/2193-1801-2-56.
  • 3.Henrotin Y, Gharbi M, Dierckxsens Y, et al. Decrease of a specific biomarker of collagen degradation in osteoarthritis, Coll2-1, by treatment with highly bioavailable curcumin during an exploratory clinical trial. BMC Complement. Altern. Med., 14 (2014), p. 159.
  • 4.Henrotin Y, Gharbi M, Dierckxsens Y, et al. Decrease of a specific biomarker of collagen degradation in osteoarthritis, Coll2-1, by treatment with highly bioavailable curcumin during an exploratory clinical trial. BMC Complement. Altern. Med., 14 (2014), p. 159.
  • 5.Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press; 2011. Chapter 13. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/
  • 6.Tayyem RF, Heath DD, Al-Delaimy WK, Rock CL. Curcumin content of turmeric and curry powders. Nutr Cancer. 2006;55(2):126-31. PubMed PMID: 17044766.
  • 7.Kwon HL, Chung MS. Pilot-scale subcritical solvent extraction of curcuminoids from Curcuma long L. Food Chem. 2015 Oct 15;185:58-64. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2015.03.114. Epub 2015 Apr 2. PubMed PMID: 25952841.
  • 8.Srivastava KC, Mustafa T. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) in rheumatism and musculoskeletal disorders. Med Hypotheses. 1992 Dec;39(4):342-8. doi: 10.1016/0306-9877(92)90059-l. PubMed PMID: 1494322.
  • 9.Al-Nahain A, Jahan R, Rahmatullah M. Zingiber officinale: A Potential Plant against Rheumatoid Arthritis. Arthritis. 2014;2014:159089. doi:10.1155/2014/159089
  • 10.Aryaeian N, Shahram F, Mahmoudi M, Tavakoli H, Yousefi B, Arablou T, Jafari Karegar S. The effect of ginger supplementation on some immunity and inflammation intermediate genes expression in patients with active Rheumatoid Arthritis. Gene. 2019 May 25;698:179-185. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2019.01.048. Epub 2019 Mar 4. PubMed PMID: 30844477.
  • 11.Sibille KT, King C, Garrett TJ, et al. Omega-6: Omega-3 PUFA Ratio, Pain, Functioning, and Distress in Adults With Knee Pain. Clin J Pain. 2018;34(2):182-189.
  • 12.Jin X, Jones G, Cicuttini F, et al. Effect of Vitamin D Supplementation on Tibial Cartilage Volume and Knee Pain Among Patients With Symptomatic Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2016;315(10):1005-1013. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.1961.
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