Decoding Joint Supplements

The occasional creek and pop of your joints may not hurt. However, not everyone is so fortunate. For Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month, let's talk joint health and decode joint supplements.

Nutrients in Joint Health

All nutrients are important for health, and joint cartilage contains compounds called chondroitin and glucosamine, along with fluid and surrounding tissues between joints. Cartilage is damaged in arthritis and can break or form spurs between joints leading to swelling, stiffness, and pain.

Some research suggests inflammation is related to arthritis. Inflammation is beneficial in healing, but chronic inflammation can lead to health problems.

Thus, the idea has surfaced that consuming supplemental chondroitin and glucosamine could provide materials to rebuild cartilage and eating an anti-inflammatory diet may improve arthritis symptoms and joint health. (Chondroitin and glucosamine are not available in foods commonly eaten (such as shells of shellfish).)

Inflammation and Diet

Research is still ongoing on what diseases may be related to inflammation, and how foods and the overall diet may be involved.

There is evidence to suggest unsaturated fats – specifically omega-3 fatty acids – may limit inflammatory responses in the body. The research on the amount and frequency to which we should consume omega-3s for joint health is still limited.

However, an overall healthy diet provides basic nutrition (fats, proteins, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, and water) along with other benefits such as anti-oxidant properties, fiber, disease-risk reduction, etc.

This would include:

  • Eating fruits and vegetables. Go for a variety of different foods. Try something new!
  • Eating plant proteins. Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy foods are sources of plant proteins.
  • Eating whole grains. Do not be fooled by breads that are brown in color. Look for 100% whole wheat or 100% whole grain bagels, breads, crackers, pasta, etc.
  • Cooking with more healthy eats. Use oils rather than butter. Limit the amount of butter, cheese, and fatty meats.
  • Cooking with fatty fish. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and other fish have heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

Other Steps for Joint Health

  • Drink water. Water is your best source of hydration, and some of that fluid will be used to lubricate joints.
  • Be active. Moving the body – whether in day-to-day activities or exercise – can help reduce stiffness and pain.
  • Lose excess weight. Caring less body weight puts less pressure on joints and can improve movement and pain.

Decoding Supplements

Some studies suggest benefit in pain reduction or reduced inflammation among participants who were given joint supplements with glucosamine and/or chondroitin. On the market, other ingredients are also found in joint supplements. With these ingredients, glucosamine, and chondroitin, there may only be one study on the ingredient and the type of arthritis or joint pain studied varied. At this time, it is not recommended to use joint supplements, as more research is needed.

Be aware:

  • Some joint supplement ingredients interact with other medications. Bleeding, allergic reactions, and other concerns have been reported. Show your doctor, pharmacist, and other health professionals a list of any supplements you take.
  • Supplements are not regulated in the same way drugs and foods are. Companies making supplements are responsible for evaluating safety of the supplement, not the FDA or another regulatory agency.

Bottom Line

Consume an overall healthy diet and be active. If joint pain and arthritis are getting in the way of your enjoyment of life, discuss your concerns with your doctor. There may be a place for a supplement in your treatment plan.

Resources

Today's post was written by Caitlin Huth. Caitlin Huth, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator serving DeWitt, Macon, and Piatt Counties. She teaches nutrition- and food-based lessons around heart health, food safety, diabetes, and others. In all classes, she encourages trying new foods, gaining confidence in healthy eating, and getting back into our kitchens.