Many people take dietary supplements to try to reduce or prevent arthritis inflammation and degeneration.
Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs, and many other products, such as probiotics. They are typically sold over the counter in pill form, but may also be sold as powders or liquids.
Proponents say that certain dietary supplements:
- Help alleviate existing joint pain in some patients
- Have very few side effects
- Are a relatively affordable treatment option
Before taking supplements, patients are advised to talk to their doctors and make sure that the supplements are appropriate and will not interact negatively with existing medical conditions, prescription medications, or dietary restrictions.
Some of the most common and well-researched supplements for arthritis are turmeric and/or curcumin; ginger; fish oil; and glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.
Turmeric and/or curcumin. Evidence suggests curcumin, found in the spice turmeric, has antioxidant properties that can potentially decrease inflammation and inhibit arthritis pain.1-4 Researchers estimate that curcumin accounts for only about 3% of turmeric,5 so a curcumin supplement is often recommended. Advocates suggest a daily dose of 200 to 1000mg of curcumin labeled as containing 95% curcuminoids.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale). Recent research shows that ginger may work as an anti-inflammatory and help relieve symptoms in people with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.6-8 A 100 to 225mg ginger capsule can be taken daily. For people who prefer not to take capsules, integrating a few tablespoons of fresh grated ginger into meals may also have an effect. People who take blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin (Coumadin), should avoid ginger because it can counteract the medication’s effects.
Fish Oil (Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA). Fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory effects in people with rheumatoid arthritis as well as osteoarthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome. Many experts recommend eating seafood, such as salmon, mackerel, cod and mussels, which contain EPA and DHA. Smaller amounts of EPA and DHA are found in eggs, particularly Omega-3 fortified eggs. People who do not regularly eat fish or fortified eggs can take a daily fish oil capsule.
It is important to distinguish EPA and DHA Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in most seafood, from ALA Omega-3 fatty acid, which is found in plant-based foods such as flax seeds and nuts. The body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA; however, eating foods containing ALA does not seem to be as effective as eating foods with EPA and DHA.9
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. Advocates believe glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements promote cartilage formation and repair and reduce or prevent inflammation.
Research regarding these supplements is mixed.10,11 Positive clinical studies show glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements providing modest pain relief. It may be that these supplements work for some but not all people. Experts recommend people stop taking glucosamine and chondroitin supplements if they do not experience any benefit within 6 months. Glucosamine should be avoided by anyone allergic to shellfish, since it is derived from shrimp, crab and other shellfish.
The US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements, so potency may vary from brand to brand and even batch to batch during manufacturing. (In addition to confounding consumers, this variability makes it difficult for researchers to evaluate supplements effectiveness in treating arthritis.)
People interested in taking a supplement to treat arthritis pain are advised to consult their doctors about specific types and brands. Consumers can also find out which brands are tested by independent laboratories to verify their purity. For example, manufacturers that list Good Manufacturing Practice or GMP on their labels attest that the products are pure and that they have made efforts to minimize or eliminate contamination and errors.