The ABCs of OA: 10 Supplements for Healthy Joints
It’s true that most people have some osteoarthritis (OA) by the time they’re 70, but for many people, it is possible to manage osteoarthritis so that it never becomes crippling.
Doctors who treat osteoarthritis with nutritional therapy view it as a metabolic disorder — a breakdown in the body’s ability to regenerate bone and cartilage. Although they concede that the breakdown is partly the result of aging, they also believe that providing the proper nutrients can help stop deterioration and reduce pain and swelling. Early aggressive treatment is best. Lose weight if you need to, but maintain muscle mass, especially in your legs, as knees tend to bear the brunt of osteoarthritis. Joint-specific supplements are essential, too. They can maintain healthy cartilage, restore joint-lubricating synovial fluid and keep bone structure under the cartilage healthy.
Here is a wrap-up of the nutrients involved in healthy joint function.
1. Glucosamine (1,500 mg/day)
Glucosamine is proven to delay the progression of osteoarthritis and relieve symptoms. This naturally-occurring substance is synthesized by cartilage-producing cells, called chondrocytes, to produce joint cartilage. In OA, glucosamine synthesis is defective, and supplementation with glucosamine can help the body make the components of cartilage by stimulating various joint building processes. It also inhibits enzymes that destroy cartilage.
2. Chondroitin (1,000 mg/day)
Like glucosamine, chondroitin stimulates the production of cartilage and has the ability to prevent enzymes from dissolving cartilage. Chondroitin also inhibits free radicals that degrade joint cartilage and collagen. It improves blood circulation to joints, which enables antioxidants and glucosamine to enter inflamed joints to actually stimulate joint repair.
3. MSM (1,000 mg/day)
This sulfur-containing anti-inflammatory compound powers up glucosamine. In a 2004 study, a group of people with osteoarthritis who took both glucosamine and MSM, dropped their average pain score from 1.7 to 0.36 — an astounding reduction of 79%! Researchers also found that the combination therapy had a faster effect on pain and inflammation than either glucosamine or MSM alone.
4. Fish Oil (1,400 mg/day or more)
Although this powerful anti-inflammatory is more likely to be used for rheumatoid arthritis, a new study found that adding a fish oil supplement rich in omega-3 fatty acids to treatment of people with moderate-to-severe hip or knee osteoarthritis also helps boost glucosamine’s effectiveness.
5. Vitamin D (2,000 IU/day or more)
Results from the Framingham Osteoarthritis Cohort Study published in 1996 showed that people with low dietary intakes and blood levels of vitamin D had three times the risk of their symptoms becoming worsethan those with high intakes. A low intake of vitamin D appears to increase cartilage loss. Vitamin D is necessary for proper calcium absorption and bone structure, which are crucial in proper joint functioning. Your doctor should check blood levels to make sure you take enough.
The Framingham Osteoarthritis Study also found that high intakes of antioxidant nutrients reduced cartilage loss and disease progression. A three-fold reduction in risk of progression was found for those with high vitamin C intakes. Vitamin C is involved in the formation of both collagen and proteoglycans (two major components of cartilage.) It also counteracts the effects of free radicals in the body, which can damage cartilage. Vitamin E and beta-carotene also reduced the severity of OA.
Vitamin B12 stimulates osteoblasts, a type of cell that generates bone. That’s important to people with osteoarthritis, because underneath degenerating cartilage, bone also deteriorates, causing additional pain and further cartilage erosion. Folic acid works hand-in-hand with B12 in this process. People with OA who get extra B12 and folic acid have less pain and better grip strength. Folic acid also helps to reduce levels of uric acid, which causes joint-damaging gout. Pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, and niacin also play a role in joint health.
8. Trace Minerals (200 mcg/day of Selenium, 2 mg/day of Copper and Manganese and 30 mg/day of Zinc)
Studies show that low intake of trace minerals like selenium, manganese, copper and zinc are associated with an increased risk for OA. These minerals play a role in bone-hardening, cross-linkage of collagen fibers, which adds strength, protein metabolism, natural antioxidant production and a host of other chemical reactions that influence the body’s ability to heal itself. Most diets these days are low in trace minerals, which are found in whole grains, nuts and seeds. Your best bet is a good multi-vitamin-mineral.
9. Curcumin (900 mg/day)
This component of curry spice inhibits the secretion of collagenase, hyaluronidase, and elastase, all pro-inflammatory enzymes that are linked to the breakdown of cartilage that characterizes osteoarthritis.
10. Hyaluronic Acid (100 mg/day)
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is present in the collagen of human connective tissue and may be best known as an ingredient in many natural products for wrinkle reduction both by topical application and injection. The concentration of hyaluronic acid in the synovial fluid that lubricates joints is decreased in people with osteoarthritis. In fact, the theory has been proposed that glucosamine stimulates the production of hyaluronic acid within the synovial fluid. Hyaluronic acid acts like synovial fluid in the joint, which helps to improve function by adding cushioning, and reducing friction inflammation.