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5 supplements for improved joint health

These five alternative supplements are proven to help you manage osteoathritis or rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. 

Joint pain is a constant in many Americans’ lives. One in five adults has osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and many others suffer with joint pain from overuse, sports injuries, or strain from excess weight.

The commonly recommended supplements, glucosamine and chondroitin, are believed to replace damaged joint cartilage with healthy cartilage. Two recent studies, however, cast doubt on the duo’s effectiveness; more research is needed. Fish oil fights inflammation and is especially helpful for rheumatoid arthritis, says Robert Rountree, MD, Delicious Living’s medical editor.

If you’ve tried these remedies but aren’t experiencing enough relief, consider this crop of up-and-coming supplements.

It’s a good idea to talk to your health care provider before starting a new supplement. 

1. SAMe

Best for: Joint pain (osteoarthritis); also rebuilds cartilage

S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) may mildly stimulate cartilage growth in arthritis-damaged joints, a bonus discovered during a 1970s study investigating the supplement’s effect on depression; many patients reported diminished joint pain. Recent research shows SAMe relieves joint pain “as effectively as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs], but with fewer side effects,” says rheumatologist Nathan Wei, MD.

Dose: 200–600 mg SAMe daily. Start at the lower amount and increase over a two-week period, says Eric Braverman, MD, author of The Younger (Thinner) You Diet (McGraw-Hill, 2008). Doses of up to 1,200 mg daily are safe and sometimes needed if lower doses aren’t effective, says Rountree. Choose enteric-coated tablets for better absorption. If you are taking medication for depression, consult with a health care provider before taking SAMe. Don’t take SAMe if you have bipolar disorder or Parkinson’s disease.

2. Curcumin

Best for: Joint inflammation and stiffness (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis)

Mounting research shows curcumin, extracted from the curry spice turmeric, not only helps ward off Alzheimer’s and heart disease, but also relieves joint pain by inhibiting prostaglandin production, an effect similar to that of aspirin and NSAIDs, explains Holly Lucille, ND, a Los Angeles–based naturopathic doctor.

Dose: 400 mg curcumin twice daily. Choose a supplement that also includesat least 2 mg piperine, a black-pepper derivative that enhances curcumin absorption.

3. Willow Bark concentrate

Best for: Joint pain (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, sports injury, overuse)

“Willow bark is the original source of aspirin, but using the entire herb has been found to be much safer and quite effective” for joint pain, says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of Pain Free 1-2-3 (McGraw-Hill, 2006). Willow bark works more slowly than aspirin, but its anti-inflammatory pain relief lasts longer, says Braverman.

Dose: 120–240 mg salicin (the active ingredient) daily. Start with 240 mg of a highly concentrated salicin extract daily until maximum benefit is seen; then lower to 120 mg or less daily. Don’t try willow bark if you’re allergic to aspirin.

4. ASU (Avocado Soy Unsaponifiables)

Best for: Joint discomfort (osteoarthritis); can also prevent joint pain

Several clinical trials show that ASU (a combination extract from soy and avocado oils) blocks inflammation at the joint capsule that would otherwise damage the joint. ASU relieves pain as well as conventional medications but with fewer side effects, says Wei.

Dose: 300 mg ASU daily. Look for a formula that includes glucosamine and chondroitin; the three work better together. A green-tea extract called EGCG may also provide synergistic benefits. Studies show people may take ASU for two months or more before feeling improvements, says Braverman, so be patient.

5. Boswellia

Best for: Joint soreness and inflammation (osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis)

A traditional Ayurvedic herb also known as Indian frankincense, Boswellia serrata eases inflammation and improves blood supply to joints, both of which ward off tissue damage. For people with arthritis, boswellia has been shown to relieve morning pain and stiffness, improve joint flexibility, and reduce swelling.

Dose: 150 mg of boswellic acids three times daily. In rare cases, boswellia causes stomach upset and skin rash.

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