Osteoarthritis is a chronic and degenerative disease of the joint, or in layman terms, a “wear and tear” problem of the rubbery cushions between the joints that tends to worsen over time. There is no one-shot-fits-all approach to treating arthritis, and treatment can (and usually does) consist of several options, like anti-inflammatory pain medication, physical and occupational therapy, or surgery. Additionally, many vitamins and supplements can help treat arthritis.
Top 13 Vitamins and Supplements Used in the Treatment of Osteoarthritis:
- Glucosamine with Chondroitin
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Rose Hips
- Curcumin (Turmeric)
- Cat’s Claw
- Green Tea (Camellia Sinensis)
Osteoarthritis is very common, especially in people who are 65 or older. It holds the title as the most prevalent joint condition in the United States, impacting more than 27 million Americans. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, causing pain, stiffness, and restriction of movement.
One in two adults will develop knee osteoarthritis in their lifetime, and many millions more must learn how to combat the debilitating finger-joint pain that accompanies arthritis occurring in the hands and fingers. Unsurprisingly, many sufferers choose to add natural remedies and nutritional supplements to their arthritis-fighting toolbox.
Eating Right for Arthritis
Arthritis can be simplified as a disease of inflammation. Therefore, choosing whole foods that are not only healthy but also naturally anti-inflammatory, and can play a significant role in easing pain and other common symptoms. This is most certainly the case for rheumatoid arthritis. For osteoarthritis sufferers, we know that a well-balanced diet consisting of whole, unprocessed foods promotes a healthy weight, and weight management is critical to lessening “wear and tear” on the bones and joints.
Researchers have looked at which foods are found to alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms, determining that sufferers are most likely to benefit from garlic, onion, leeks, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, milk, legumes, and whole grains. In one research study, diets high in cow cheese appeared to worsen osteoporosis symptoms. Some researchers report that eliminating dairy completely helps lessen symptoms, although study results so far have been mixed.
1. Glucosamine with Chondroitin
Chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine are the most popular supplements used in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Glucosamine, or glucosamine sulfate, is a naturally-occurring part of cartilage with the highest concentration found in the fluid around the joints. Producers of glucosamine supplements source the compound from shellfish or recreate it in the laboratory. Glucosamine alone is very safe and can be tried in place of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
In the United States, glucosamine is often combined with chondroitin sulfate in the fight against the most common osteoarthritis symptoms. Chondroitin is also a naturally-occurring substance and a major component of cartilage. Like glucosamine, chondroitin can be sourced from animals (sharks, cows, pigs) or made in a laboratory. There is evidence that showing efficacy in reducing pain and preventing joint damage, especially in the knee. In some European countries, chondroitin sulfate is available by prescription for the treatment of osteoarthritis.
A combination of glucosamine and chondroitin has been shown to relieve pain and improve function in some cases of moderate to severe osteoarthritis of the knee. Pharmaceutical grade products are considered ideal for these supplements due to the often low quality of commercially manufactured products.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)
The popularity of omega-3 fatty acids as a supplement has grown in recent years due in large part to emerging scientific evidence that shows omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in decreasing the risk of coronary heart disease. But did you know that omega-3 fatty acids have also been found to be beneficial for treating arthritis? While the most profound symptom-reducing effects of omega-3’s are realized among those with rheumatoid arthritis, there is evidence to support omega-3 fatty acids as an anti-inflammatory therapy for osteoarthritis sufferers as well. Either way, omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial to overall health and may provide the added benefit of protecting joints from further cartilage damage.
Fatty fish are naturally bursting at the seams with omega-3 fatty acids, therefore fish oil (cod-liver oil) capsules are the most prevalent of the omega-3 supplements. The two omega-3 fatty acids that are found in fish oil are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosatetraenoic). Whole food sources that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include fish, green leafy vegetables, flaxseed oil, and walnuts.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an anti-oxidant that helps neutralize damage caused by free radicals in the body. Free radicals are thought to contribute to the underlying causes of osteoarthritis. The results of one study, published in the Journal of Translational Medicine, showed vitamin C helped prevent the onset of pain in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. Patients in this particular study received twice-weekly, high-dose infusions of vitamin C. The data from this study suggests efficacy in pain relief from vitamin C for rheumatoid arthritis, however, it is unclear if those suffering from osteoarthritis could expect the same benefit. There is evidence that Vitamin C is possibly effective as an adjunct treatment for gout when taken in combination with uric acid.
The recommended intake of Vitamin C is 40mg per day for adults and this should be easily obtainable from diet alone. Whole food sources for Vitamin C include orange and yellow vegetables, as well as citrus fruit and kiwi fruit. Vitamin C supplements are incredibly common and available in many forms: dissolvable tablets, fizzy drinks, gummies, vitamin capsules, and in-clinic infusions.
Be careful not to overdo it. There is some research to suggest that too much vitamin C can actually accelerate joint damage in those living with osteoarthritis. As always, talk to your healthcare provider before beginning your regimen.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes bone health by helping the body absorb calcium. While this “sunshine vitamin” is by no means a cure-all, scientists are discovering increasingly more about how vitamin D plays a key role in physical health and vitality. We get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, as well as from fatty fish and foods that have been fortified (such as orange juice and milk). Nevertheless, a high proportion of the human population has a vitamin D deficiency, in some regions as much as 75%.
It is recommended that those at risk for bone disease or joint deterioration have their vitamin D status checked via blood test and take with vitamin D supplements if necessary.
5. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is another fat-soluble antioxidant that exhibits anti-inflammatory properties and helps to protect the body from destructive free radicals. As far as we know, vitamin E might play a role in slowing down the progression of osteoarthritis, although results from medical studies can vary.
6. Vitamin K
Vitamin K plays a role in the regulation of skeletal mineralization, and insufficiencies can heighten the risk of osteoarthritis appearing or progressing, especially in the knee or hand. We get enough of this vitamin by eating plenty of green vegetables, legumes, eggs, liver, and strawberries. While the need for supplementation is not well established, vitamin K is thought to play a role in preventing the onset and progression of bone and joint damage.
7. Curcumin (Turmeric)
This yellow powder, traditionally used as an arthritis treatment in China and India, has gained traction worldwide as an arthritis-fighting supplement. A number of studies show curcumin, also known as turmeric, to be effective in lessening pain, stiffness, and inflammation among both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis sufferers. Curcumin is considered one of the most effective antioxidants, shown to be especially effective against the disease activity of knee osteoarthritis.
8. Rose Hips
Rose hips are not only incredibly rich in vitamin C but have shown to decrease inflammation by inhibiting production of inflammatory proteins and enzymes, specifically key players COX-1 and COX-2. Large-scale studies have provided evidence that rose hips powder can minimize hip, knee, and wrist joint pain in osteoarthritis patients.
Ginger is not just a delicious spice. Incredibly, there is research to suggest that high-potency ginger may one day be as effective a painkiller as over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen. In one study, concentrated ginger extract reduced pain and stiffness in knee joints by 40 percent. Ginger is an all-in-one pain reliever (analgesic), anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. To ensure the full benefits of ginger as a supplement, choose capsules that use the “super-critical” method of extraction.
MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is an organic sulfur compound found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. MSM also exists naturally in the human body as a helper to connective tissues. MSM seems to act as an analgesic (pain reliever) by putting a damper on the nerve impulses that transmit pain, and there is evidence to back this up. A 2006 study of men and women with knee osteoarthritis taking 6,000 mg of MSM reported improved physical function and less pain. Use with caution: Although no major side effects have been reported, MSM has been known to cause upset stomach or diarrhea.
SAM-e (S-adenosyl-L-methionine), a chemical that occurs naturally in the body, has received much attention over the last 20 years for its effectiveness as a pain-killer for people with osteoarthritis (among others). Most will experience some benefit within the first months, and because SAM-e works in partnership with B-6, B-12 and folic acid, it is important to get enough B vitamins while taking this supplement. In fact, B vitamins may themselves help reduce bone pain from osteoarthritis.
12. Cat’s Claw
The root and bark of cat’s claw (not to be confused with cat’s foot or devil’s claw) is a popular medicinal in the US and Europe. Thought to have anti-inflammatory effects, one of its most common uses is symptom relief in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The cat’s claw species of Uncaria guianensis has been shown to relieve knee pain from exercise within one week of treatment.
13. Green Tea
Green tea is the result of steaming, pan frying and drying the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Popular around the world and consumed most often as a beverage, green tea in extract, tincture and supplement form can be also purchased. While more studies are needed, early evidence points to green tea as a potential treatment for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Green tea contains polyphenols that reduce inflammation in the body.
Vitamins for Arthritis Sufferers
Studies show that these vitamins can help alleviate joint inflammation, minimize pain, and strengthen your bones. It’s a good idea to discuss any natural remedies for arthritis that you are considering with your doctor. While these vitamins are viewed as safe and healthy, interactions can and do exist among over-the-counter supplements and prescription medication. The vitamin and supplement industries are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration, so individuals should stick with trusted sources for their purchases.
Be careful not to exceed the recommended dosage unless otherwise indicated by your physician. When taken correctly and safely, these vitamins and minerals can be an important part of an effective arthritis treatment plan.