Millions of people suffer from sore and inflamed joints, caused by hundreds of different conditions. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout are among the most common. They’re frustrating conditions, made even more so because effective, safe pain relief is so hard to find.
The most popular prescribed medicines for arthritis are anti-inflammatory drugs, but many find the side effects unbearable. Then there are the safety worries. Two of the most widely prescribed arthritis drugs, Vioxx and Bextra, were withdrawn in 2004 and 2005 because of concerns about increased risk of heart attack and stroke in patients. A similar drug, Celebrex, is still prescribed, although studies have shown similar risks.
More and more people are seeking safer, more natural treatments – and this doesn’t mean relying on folk medicine or old wive’s tales. Many natural remedies for joint pain have been studied and shown to be effective, and there are now dozens of natural arthritis supplements available.
The following supplements are some of the best: studies show they ease pain and inflammation, and some even prevent further damage. Here’s what you need to know.
The best natural ways to relieve joint discomfort
This spicy pantry staple has a long history of use in medicine as well as in the kitchen. Traditional Ayurvedic medicine has used turmeric to treat inflammation for centuries in India; while modern research is building evidence to show that this ancient remedy really works. Animal studies have shown that turmeric can reduce joint inflammation, possibly by inhibiting the production of our bodies’ inflammatory chemicals, prostaglandins and leukotrienes. Many experts now agree that turmeric can reduce joint pain and inflammation.
Resveratrol, a compound found naturally in red grape skins and Japanese knotweed, is being investigated as another potential treatment for joint pain and inflammation. Researchers have discovered that injections of resveratrol helped reduce joint inflammation and slow down cartilage damage in animals. It’s thought that a resveratrol supplement could replicate the same anti-inflammatory effect, and research is ongoing and promising.
Research by Joseph Maroon MD, author of The Longevity Factor, shows that fish oil supplements could have similar anti-inflammatory properties to resveratrol. Both fish oil and resveratrol block the same ‘nuclear factor kappa B transcription factors’ that cause inflammation. He recommends that his patients take a combination of resveratrol and high-grade fish oil supplements to relieve painful, swollen joints.
Glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin
Of all the natural treatments for joint pain, glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin are backed by the largest body of evidence. Studies have shown that these two supplements relieve joint pain and inflammation, and can even prevent the progression of osteoarthritis. Glucosamine protects and helps produce cartilage, while chondroitin helps slow cartilage breakdown. Although they work separately, their benefits are known to be greater when taken together.
SAM-e stands for S-adenosylmethionine. It doesn’t sound too natural, but it’s a molecule found in almost every tissue and fluid in our bodies. It is well known as a natural treatment for depression (suffered by many people living with severe joint pain), and many studies and clinical trials have also shown that SAM-e relieves moderate osteoarthritis pain. Taking a SAM-e supplement delivers sulfur to your cartilage, where it helps strengthen your joints. In Europe, SAM-e is regularly prescribed by doctors for the treatment of both osteoarthritis and depression.
MSM – or methylsulfonylmethane – is an organic form of sulfur, one of the key chemical components in our food. MSM supplements are generally used to relieve muscle pain, but there is some evidence that MSM can also help relieve joint discomfort. It hasn’t been shown to preserve cartilage, but it may enhance the effectiveness of glucosamine and chondroitin when taken with those supplements.
Being low in vitamin D is a common deficiency, but a dangerous one for people with osteoarthritis. Those with low levels of vitamin D may lose more cartilage than those with higher levels, so it’s a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement if you have osteoarthritis. If you are deficient, it can help stop further cartilage loss, although unlike the supplements mentioned above, it won’t relieve pain.
Magnesium enhances the body’s ability to produce a sufficient quantity of energy to nourish its muscles. Energy-deprived muscles do not relax – they contract. Magnesium is also responsible for balancing calcium levels in the human body, which plays a role in the way nerve cells emit pain signals. As an added bonus, improved magnesium levels will mean you have more energy to pursue healthy physical activities during your spare time, and therefore be less likely to develop chronic back pain caused by inactivity.
Popular home remedies for joint pain
Eat: Bananas, garlic cloves fried in butter, fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids
Drink: Carrot juice (try adding lemon), apple cider vinegar (mix two teaspoons with the same amount of honey, dissolved in a glass of warm water)
Massage: Use an arnica cream, warm olive oil or make a camphor rub (mix one teaspoon of camphor oil with one teaspoonful of sunflower oil)
Move: A warm bath with two cups of epsom salts dissolved in to the water can give some pain relief, as can alternating hot and cold compresses. Exercise improves joint flexibility and bone strength (exercising in water can reduce discomfort)