A lot of people take supplements for arthritis to help ease joint pains and reduce the severity of the inflammation.
However, some are still skeptical about the efficacy of these arthritis supplements and, as such, are wary of them. Arthritis is an inflammatory disease, and although it might not have a permanent cure, one can reduce the pain resulting from the inflammation through certain medications, the proper diet, and certain supplements for arthritis.
It is important to note that you must take the right supplements to get the right results. Also, you want to ensure the supplements for arthritis you are taking are not harmful to your body.
As a registered nurse and someone who has lived with chronic illness for more than 30 years, I’ve tried both medicines and supplements to manage my rheumatoid arthritis. I take a more integrative approach to my health care and have found it beneficial. The use of supplements has been an integral part of my arthritis journey.
How effective are supplements for arthritis? Are they safe? Can they replace arthritis medications? These and more are the things I’ll discuss in detail.
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Overview of Arthritis
Arthritis is an inflammatory disease that affects the joints in the body, not just the joints alone but also the tissues surrounding the joints. Arthritis can affect multiple joints simultaneously and other parts of the body, including the eyes, lungs, kidneys, skin, and even the heart.
There are over 100 different types of arthritis, and symptoms can include fever, fatigue, loss of motion, joint stiffness, swelling, and pain. Symptoms of arthritis can be experienced over a long time but can also flare up suddenly, so paying close attention to your body signals is necessary.
Specific causes of arthritis have been identified over time, and while these might not apply to everyone, it fits most people diagnosed with arthritis. They include age, work, obesity, joint injuries, abnormal metabolism, genetics, infection, and a dysfunctional immune system.
The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which affects older adults more but also affects children and young adults. Rheumatoid arthritis is another common type of arthritis that can affect any joint and is often characterized by joint stiffness, swelling, tenderness, and severe pain.
There is no exact cure for arthritis, but you can effectively manage it to reduce the severity of the pain or dull the symptoms. Specific approaches have been made, including medications, surgery, holistic methods, and lifestyle changes.
Supplements for arthritis
Several nutritional supplements can support the relief of arthritis symptoms, including:
Curcumin is found in turmeric roots and is known to be its active compound. It makes up about 3% of the plant and is a potent anti-inflammatory agent that blocks inflammation-promoting enzymes and cytokines in the body. These properties can reduce joint pain and swelling for a long time, especially for people with osteoarthritis.
Curcumin is, however, difficult to absorb into the body and should be taken with a source of fat. It is also known to reduce iron absorption into the body, which might be counterproductive if you have an Iron deficiency.
2. Fish oil
Fish oil contains polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory. Omega-3 fatty acids can serve as blockers to inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins. The body can also convert them into resolvins, which are powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals.
This is why fish oil is a more effective supplement for inflammatory arthritis, i.e., the types of arthritis mainly fuelled by inflammation like rheumatoid arthritis.
A review of studies on the effectiveness of fish oil supplements for rheumatoid arthritis has shown that they can treat joint pain, stiffness, and swelling in some people.
Farshad Fani Marvasti, the director of Public Health, Prevention, and Health Promotion at the University of Arizona, advises taking fish oil supplements if you have moderate arthritis pain before going for Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen.
3. SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine)
S-adenosylmethionine is a natural anti-inflammatory compound that can protect the cartilage and be a powerful analgesic. It is said to be a healthier alternative to NSAIDs and is effective without the side effects that are common to them.
It can provide more relief for people with osteoarthritis than other types of arthritis. It also stimulates the growth of cartilage and blocks neurotransmitters like serotonin, which causes reduced pain perception.
As effective as SAM-e is, it usually takes a while after commencing usage to see its effect, but it can also work as an antidepressant.
You should be careful when taking SAM-e as it has several side effects, including diarrhea and constipation. It can also have a negative drug-drug interaction with other drugs like antidepressants.
Capsaicin reduces the presence of a pain transmitter referred to as substance P. It can be an effective supplement for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis because it reduces pain.
Capsaicin is also available as topical cream, gel, and patch, which is a good alternative if you’re unsure of using supplements for arthritis.
5. Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA)
Gamma Linolenic Acid is an Omega-6 fatty acid, unlike fish oil supplements. However, it also converts into anti-inflammatory chemicals in the body, which helps to reduce inflammation. You can use it with fish oil supplements, but you should confirm this with your doctor.
It can be one of the most effective supplements for any arthritis but is more effective for rheumatoid arthritis patients.
6. Boswellia serrata
Boswellic acid is the most active compound in Boswellia serrata and contains anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It reduces cartilage loss and can be more effective for people with osteoarthritis.
7. Vitamin D
Vitamin D supplements for arthritis can help with joint pain because they are essential for bone strength. Having low levels of vitamin D may result in increased arthritic pain.
Also, the development of osteoarthritis is often linked with Vitamin D deficiency, and taking vitamin D supplements can reduce the effect of arthritis, including psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoporosis.
8. Glucosamine & Chondroitin sulfate
These two supplements are one of the most used supplements for arthritis. They are the components of cartilage, the flexible connective tissue that serves as a cushion between two bones and reduces the friction in your joints caused by movement.
The effectiveness of this supplement, either singly or together, is still being researched. However, glucosamine is said to be more effective than chondroitin, as there was little difference between people placed on a placebo and those who used chondroitin. Still, it is more effective when used with something else.
According to Mayo Clinic researchers, glucosamine sulfate can be used with or without chondroitin sulfate for knee osteoarthritis, and it may be effective in managing only moderate arthritis pain.
Glucosamine is usually manufactured from the shells of shellfish, shrimp, and other crustaceans, which means that if you are allergic to shellfish, you might react when you take it. Discuss with your attending physician to find a good option.
Other side effects of using glucosamine can include the following:
- Avocado-Soybean Unsaponifiable (ASU)
Avocado-Soybean Unsaponifiable (ASU) is said to block pro-inflammatory chemicals, prevent damage to synovial cells and help repair and regenerate connective tissues, including those around the joints.
ASU supplements might be a more effective way to manage the symptoms of arthritis compared to NSAIDs.
It is a natural extract from avocado and soybean oil and can present side effects like hives and digestive issues. For Avocado-Soybean Unsaponifiable (ASU) that contains glucosamine, it can result in allergic reactions.
10. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
Methylsulfonylmethane may relieve arthritis pain by helping the body repair or form connective tissues. Research about the effectiveness of MSM is limited.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is found in common plants, vegetables, and humans. It contains sulfur, and usage might result in side effects like bloating, insomnia, fatigue, and itching.
Regardless of how effective supplements for arthritis might be, there are no medications that do not come with their fair share of risks and side effects. This is why it is usually necessary to avoid self-medication and ensure that your doctor knows all types of medication (supplements) you take.
Here are some of the risks of taking supplements for arthritis:
1. Blood thinning
High doses of omega-3 supplements can result in blood thinning and interact with anticoagulant drugs.
2. A build-up of fat-soluble vitamins
Taking high doses of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K can result in a build-up in the body and cause more harm, unlike water-soluble vitamins, where the body can easily flush out the excess water.
3. Some supplements are not FDA-approved
This is because supplements are not thoroughly accessed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compared to how medicines are accessed. Unlike supplements, medications go through rigorous approval processes before they are released for sale.
4. Misleading information
Ingredients listed on the labels of some supplements can be different from what is in the bottle. For example, a company might claim that an omega-3 supplement is plant-based when it is not, which is why you should avoid new supplements and stick with trusted brands.
Tips for using supplements for arthritis
Here are my best tips if you decide to use supplements for arthritis management:
Always check in with your doctor.
I recommend seeing the same doctor in charge of your arthritis when you need an opinion on a specific supplement. It is easier to reconcile your medical history and track the effectiveness of whatever you take when the same person is in charge.
Use them as add-ons.
All supplements for arthritis are to be taken as add-ons. It means they cannot replace your arthritis medications because those are the proven way to reduce joint damage. You can support your medications, but you should not replace them.
Take safe doses only.
Different factors can affect the dosage of your supplements. For example, plant-based omega-3 supplements are different from fish-based omega-3 supplements. This factor will affect the dosage, so it is always advisable to keep your doctor informed.
Avoid test products.
You should not use a test product except otherwise stated by your doctor. Your doctor should approve new supplements to know what is right for you.
As effective as these supplements for arthritis are, you cannot use them in place of your arthritis medications. It is usually best to take them as add-ons rather than replacement drugs; this way, the arthritis supplements can support rather than block the effect of your medications.
Another vital thing to note is that on no account should you take any supplement without your doctor’s approval.
If your doctor is against taking a supplement, it is best to inquire about the reason or seek a second opinion. However, it can be detrimental to take supplements without informing your doctor because they will be aware of certain potential adverse reactions or side effects based on your medical history and current medications.
How often do you take supplements for arthritis? Does your doctor approve of them?
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