AARP AARP States Illinois Health & Wellbeing

Do Supplements Work for Arthritis Pain?

george-kannankeril-5x7-print

Patients often ask me about supplements and it’s easy to understand why. Just about every supermarket has an aisle of “natural” cures that claim to decrease arthritis pain. The question is: Do any of them work?

People like the idea of organic supplements because they are usually made from naturally occurring nutrients instead of something synthetic made in a lab. However, supplements can be marketed and sold without undergoing the same vigorous scrutiny that FDA-approved medications are subjected to. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are not effective, but their efficacy and safety just aren’t as well established.

Although the scientific evidence for supplements is conflicting, some of my patients say they’ve experienced a decrease in joint soreness and stiffness from using supplements. Some patients benefit from using traditional medicines with natural ones. Our bodies are similar yet we all respond differently to various therapies. Here is information that may help guide your discussion with your doctor about whether supplements are right for you.

Glucosamine

    • It’s a building block for proteoglycans, which are an important structure in cartilage that helps with shock-absorbing.
    • No convincing evidence that it helps reduce pain or slows progression of osteoarthritis
    • Some studies suggest it is no better than a placebo
    • Anecdotally, many patients do report pain relief, and it is relatively safe
    • Overall, not officially recommended as treatment for arthritis but may be worth trying if not responding to other treatment options Chondroitin
    • Another building block to normal cartilage structures
    • Almost always paired with glucosamine
    • Conflicting evidence that it can slow progression of arthritis or reduce pain
    • Like glucosamine, not officially recommended as treatment for arthritis Turmeric
    • Inhibits molecules that are involved in inflammation
    • Similar to ginger, thought to have a positive effect on inflammatory conditions
    • Several small studies show it can reduce pain to a similar degree as oral anti-inflammatory agents like ibuprofen
    • No large studies to support these findings yet Fish Oil
    • People with higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish or fish oil supplements, have been found to have lower inflammatory markers
    • Studies have shown that daily supplements of fish oil can ease joint stiffness, swelling, and pain Vitamins
  • Vitamins C and E have been suggested to reduce pain from osteoarthritis
  • Most support has been for Vitamin D to be beneficial for treating arthritic pain, however recent studies have shown no benefit compared to placebo on either pain or progression of cartilage loss

Dr. George Kannankeril is a physiatrist with NorthShore University HealthSystem’s Arthritis Center

About AARP Illinois
Contact information and more from your state office. Learn what we are doing to champion social change and help you live your best life.