Dear Dietitian – Exploring food supplements to treat arthritis
Dear Readers: Regarding physical activities, have you concluded that you’re not as young as you used to be? Maybe you were once a runner, and now the knees don’t bend like they used to. Or perhaps you were a star athlete in high school, and now your star just isn’t as bright. The body has gotten older, the joints stiffer, and maybe it’s even affecting your everyday life. It’s a foe that sometimes rears its ugly head in mid-life; it’s arthritis.
In the US, as many as 54 million people suffer from osteoarthritis (OA). The word comes from the Greek “osteon,” meaning bone, and “itis,” meaning inflammation. OA is the most common form of arthritis and occurs when the cartilage that cushions bones wears down over time. Joints can become painful, swollen, and difficult to move. The most commonly affected areas are the knees, hands, hips, lower back, and neck.
Some supplements claim to ease arthritis pain, but do they work? Glucosamine, chondroitin, and curcumin (found in turmeric) are three dietary supplements we will explore. Glucosamine and chondroitin, often sold in combination, are two of the top-selling natural remedies for OA. In a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (the gold standard for research), Zhu et al. found that glucosamine was more effective than a sugar pill in alleviating joint stiffness. At the same time, chondroitin was better at improving pain and mobility. The analysis did not find enough studies to draw a conclusion about the combination therapy of the two (1).
In the 2019 treatment guidelines, the Arthritis Foundation and American College of Rheumatology gave a conditional recommendation of chondroitin sulfate for hand OA. However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says the evidence on glucosamine for OA is unclear, and chondroitin isn’t helpful. Still, these supplements have not been found to be harmful (2).
Another popular remedy for OA is curcumin, a turmeric ingredient with anti-inflammatory effects. In another meta-analysis, Daily et al. concluded that curcumin, in addition to conventional medicine, may help treat arthritis symptoms (3). In another study, curcumin was found to be as effective in treating arthritis of the knee as the drug diclofenac. However, this study was small and only lasted one month (4).
When it comes to your health, be an informed consumer. A little homework may be necessary before purchasing a supplement for arthritis symptoms. The following websites will help you make a sound decision:
Consult your doctor before beginning any dietary supplement.
Until next time, be healthy!
- Zhu X, Sang L, Wu D, Rong J, Jiang L. Effectiveness and safety of glucosamine and chondroitin for the treatment of osteoarthritis a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Orthop Surg Res. 2018; 13:170.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin for osteoarthritis pain (n.d.) https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/treatment/complementary-therapies/supplements-and-vitamins/glucosamine-chondroitin-osteoarthritis-pain
- Daily J, Yang M, Park S. Efficacy of turmeric extracts and curcumin for alleviating the symptoms of joint arthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Med Food 2016 Aug 1;19(8): 717-729.
- Shmerling, R. (2019, November) Curcumin for arthritis: does it really work?