We don’t pay much attention to our joints until pain, stiffness, or tenderness start to interfere with the things we want to do. It feels pretty crummy when you want to take a run, go for a ride, or enjoy a long walk and you’re plagued with pain. (Trust me, I’ve been there!) While supplements can’t replace your doctor’s recommendations or medical treatments, certain ones may be a helpful part of your prevention or treatment plan. Here are some of the best supplements for arthritis and joint pain that are backed by science.
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Vitamin D is in only in a handful of foods so most people would benefit from a supplement. There are a variety of reasons to take it (for example, it plays a critical role in your immune system functioning), but there’s also a link between vitamin D and joint pain. One study looked at adults over 50, assessing their vitamin D levels at baseline and again later on. Participants were also questioned about pain levels. Those who were deficient in D experienced worsening knee and hip pain in the five-year follow-up period leading researchers to suggest that vitamin D may be a useful supplement for joint pain. (For more info about immune health, read this article on natural immune boosters.)
There’s also a connection between vitamin D deficiency and rheumatoid arthritis. When researchers analyzed 15 studies that compared vitamin D levels in those with rheumatoid arthritis and without, they found that deficiency was much higher among those with the disease, and that lower D levels correlated to higher measures of disease activity.
Whether or not you suffer from a form of arthritis or joint pain, vitamin D is required to maintain your bone density so it’s important to get enough. You can get it from a few foods, like salmon and certain mushrooms, and you also make it when your skin is exposed to sun. The problem is that if there are clouds or fog, or you’re wearing sunscreen or are covered in clothing, you might not be getting enough. If you haven’t tested your vitamin D status in a while, do it! If you’re low, you’ll probably need a supplement. Don’t go above 4,000 IUs per day, which is considered the tolerable upper limit for adults and kids over 9 years old.
Here are some vitamin D supplements to consider:
One of the best-studied joint supplements is fish oil. One new study investigated the effects of a fish oil supplement that contained 2.4 grams of EPA+DHA, which are two main fish fats. Over the course of 16 weeks, the supplement reduced joint pain and led to improvements in perception of overall wellbeing. In other words, less joint pain equals happier people.
This backs up prior research, which showed that people taking anywhere between .2 to about 5 grams of EPA and .2 to 2.1 grams of DHA experienced less joint pain, stiffness, and swelling to the point that they reduced or stopped using NSAIDs (such as Advil).
The theory is that fish fats help block the inflammatory process that’s at the root of joint pain. These unique fats also help improve blood flow; if your blood isn’t flowing freely, you may experience pain from the fact that your tissues and nerves don’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need.
Look for high potency fish oil, ideally that’s been third-party tested for safety and purity. While fish oil is a safe supplement for arthritis and joint pain, talk to your doctor if you take blood-thinners since it also has a blood thinning effect.
Here’s a fish oil supplement to consider:
Nordic Naturals ProOmega 2000 (lemon flavor)
You might be familiar with the type of turmeric that’s in your kitchen cabinet, but it’s main chemical compound, curcumin, has potential to ease joint and arthritis pain. A 2016 review study found that the supplement worked to relieve arthritis pain and inflammation as well as potent NSAIDs. Another small 2020 studyinvolving curcumin in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis concluded that it was effective for about three quarters of those enrolled in the study and unlike many other treatments, there were no major side effects reported during the 6-month trial. The latest research compared treatment with curcumin to a placebo over 12 weeks and concluded that the supplement improved knee pain even though it didn’t seem to change any other aspects of arthritis (like swelling or cartilage damage).
The issue with turmeric is that it has poor bioavailability, meaning that you don’t absorb a lot of what you consume. Black pepper improves absorption, which is why many recipes—and some supplements—pair the two substances. However, all of this research was conducted in standardized compounds shown to improve absorption.
Here are some turmeric (curcumin) supplement to consider. Note that both forms have been studied for arthritis and joint pain.
Results of collagen studies are more mixed than for other studies, but they’re promising enough that I still believe it can be a supplement for arthritis and joint pain. One 2018 study found that a form of collagen in combination with other vitamins and supplements helped reduce joint pain by 43% and improved joint mobility by 39%. Research among athletes has shown that use of a collagen supplement can help improve joint pain under a variety of circumstances, for example, at rest, when walking, standing, and carrying stuff. And another study that compared collagen to both a placebo and glucosamine chondroitin found that people with arthritis who received the collagen demonstrated significant improvement in pain, stiffness and functioning scores compared to those in the other treatment groups.
As I said, the evidence is mixed, however there doesn’t seem to be a downside to try this other than the idea that you may be paying for a supplement that doesn’t have the benefit you’re hoping for. However, it may have other researched benefits (for example, more youthful-looking skin—yay!) and I can share that it’s widely used among professional athletes so it may be worth a shot. Note that I’d recommend it in powder form, which you can add to smoothies or coffee or oatmeal. It’s tasteless and dissolves easily. To learn more, see this article on the benefits of collagen.
Here are some collagen supplements to consider:
Final thoughts on supplements for arthritis and joint pain
While supplements for arthritis and joint pain are safe for most people, this is not a substitute for medical advice and you should check with your personal physician about making any changes to your treatment plan. Note that some supplements can interfere with certain medications you may be taking. And while results are very promising, they aren’t proven. For other supplements to consider, see this article on the best supplements for your health.
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Want to geek out on the science with me? References are below:  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23595144/  https://academic.oup.com/rheumap/article/4/2/rkaa036/5875620 https://journals.lww.com/jclinrheum/fulltext/2017/09000/omega_3_fatty_acids_in_rheumatic_diseases__a.6.aspx  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5003001/  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7425263/  https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M20-0990  https://amzn.to/3dyBaCT  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1185/030079908X291967  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26822714/