9 Supplements for Arthritis

Here are 9 vitamins and supplements, backed by science, that help relieve arthritis pain.

9 Supplements for Arthritis
Research hasn't always kept pace with the popularity of supplements. But more natural medicines are being put to the test in well-designed clinical trials. Here are nine supplements that are backed by science and shown to be effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis (OA) and arthritis-related conditions.
1. SAM-e or S-adenosylmethionine
How it works: SAM-e acts as an analgesic or pain reliever and has anti-inflammatory properties. It may stimulate cartilage growth and also affects neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which reduce pain perception. Two studies have shown that it relieves OA symptoms as effectively as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs with fewer side effects and more prolonged benefit.

Best for: osteoarthritis
Also used for: fibromyalgia
2. Boswellia Serrate or Indian frankincense
How it works: The active components, Boswellic acids, have anti-inflammatory and analgesic or pain-relieving properties. It also may help prevent cartilage loss and inhibit the autoimmune process. In one study, the extract, also known as Loxin 5, significantly improved OA pain and function within seven days. An Indian study also revealed it slowed cartilage damage after three months of use.

Best for: osteoarthritis
3. Capsaicin or Capsicum frutescens
How it works: Capsaicin temporarily reduces substance P, a pain transmitter. Its pain-relieving properties have been shown in many studies, including a 2010 study published in Phytotherapy Research, which revealed a 50% reduction in joint pain after three weeks of use. It is available as a topical cream, gel or patch.

Best for: osteoarthritis
Also used for: rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia
4. Turmeric/Curcumin or Curcuma longa
How it works: Curcumin is the chemical in turmeric that can reduce joint pain and swelling by blocking inflammatory cytokines and enzymes. A clinical trial using a turmeric supplement showed long-term improvement in pain and function in patients with knee OA. A small study using a curcumin product, BCM-95, showed more reduced joint pain and swelling in patients with active RA when compared to diclofenac sodium.

Best for: osteoarthritis
Also used for: rheumatoid arthritis
5. Avocado-soybean Unsaponifiables or ASU
How it works: ASU blocks pro-inflammatory chemicals, prevents deterioration of synovial cells, which line joints, and may help regenerate normal connective tissue. A large three-year study showed that ASU significantly reduced progression of hip OA compared with placebo. A meta-analysis found that ASU also improved symptoms of hip and knee OA, and reduced or eliminated NSAID use.

Best for: osteoarthritis
6. Cat’s Claw or Uncaria tomentosa
How it works: Cat’s claw is an anti-inflammatory that inhibits tumor necrosis factor or TNF, a target of powerful RA drugs. It also contains compounds that may benefit the immune system. A small trial showed it reduced joint pain and swelling by more than 50% compared with placebo. Look for a brand that is free of tetra-cyclic oxindole alkaloids.

Best for: rheumatoid arthritis
7. Fish Oil or Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA
How it works: Omega-3s block inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins, and are converted by the body into powerful anti-inflammatory chemicals called resolvins. EPA and DHA have been extensively studied for RA and dozens of other inflammatory conditions. One meta-analysis found that fish oil significantly decreased joint tenderness and stiffness in RA patients and reduced or eliminated NSAID use. An alternative to fish oil is krill oil, also rich in omega-3s, made from tiny, shrimp-like crusteans.

Best for: rheumatoid arthritis
Also used for: osteoarthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome
8. Gamma Linolenic Acid or GLA
How it works: GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid that the body converts into anti-inflammatory chemicals. In one trial, 56 patients with active RA showed significant improvement in joint pain, stiffness and grip strength after six months and progressive improvement in control of disease activity at one year. A smaller study found that a combination of GLA and fish oil significantly reduced the need for conventional pain relievers.

Best for: rheumatoid arthritis
9. Ginger or Zingiber officinale
How it works: Ginger has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen and COX-2 inhibitors. In one study, a specialized ginger extract reduced inflammatory reactions in RA as effectively as steroids did. Earlier studies showed that taking a certain extract four times daily reduced osteoarthritis pain in the knee after three months of treatment, and another taken twice daily worked about as well as ibuprofen taken three times daily for hip and knee OA pain.

Best for: rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis
Honorable Mentions
Although the available studies on the following supplements are less compelling or more preliminary than our other top picks, they do hold some promise for OA and RA treatment.

Osteoarthritis: Pine bark extract
Rheumatoid arthritis: Rosehips, green-lipped mussel extract
CBD or Cannabidiol
How it works: Cannabinoids are thought to influence the body’s own endocannabinoid system, which regulate biological functions such as metabolism, pain sensation and nervous system functions. Animal studies show CBD reduces pain and inflammation, and it may ease anxiety and improve sleep, but human research is needed. One study found synthetic-derived CBD was effective for knee OA pain. The FDA has approved CBD-derived drugs for rare childhood epileptic conditions.

Best for: Nerve pain
Also used for: Fibromyalgia, OA, RA
Safety and Quality
Talk to your doctor before taking a supplement so you understand the potential side effects and interactions with your medication. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not test supplements, but there are private companies that do. Be sure to research these products and share the information with your doctor. You can find supplement information on The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Medline Plus website

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