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Beyond Glucosamine & Chondroitin

10 other nutrients to ease achy joints

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Glucosamine and chondroitin are well-known for their joint health benefits. Many studies have found that glucosamine, alone or in combination with chondroitin, relieves pain and improves joint function; slows cartilage breakdown and stimulates its growth; and significantly reduces the necessity of joint surgery with long-term use.

Now, several other supplements with proven benefits for joint health are getting their turn in the spotlight. Here are some intriguing research highlights.

NEM (Natural Eggshell Membrane) In studies published in Clinical Rheumatology and Clinical Interventions in Aging, this proprietary formulation was found to reduce pain and stiffness among people with osteoarthritis and other disorders of the joints and connective tissues. Benefits began to manifest in as little as 10 days. Daily dosage: 500 mg.

Hyaluronic Acid A key component of synovial fluid that cushions joints, hyaluronic acid in supplements can reduce joint pain and stiffness, according to research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The study tested BioCell Collagen, which contains hyaluronic acid. Common dosage: 1–2 grams of BioCell Collagen. Follow product directions for other forms.

Keratin Animal and lab studies have found that a special form of the protein keratin, called Cynatine, helps to reduce inflammation and joint breakdown. It also acts as an antioxidant and enhances our internal antioxidant production. Common dosage: 500 mg daily (may be listed on labels as Cynatine).

Curcumin More than 1,300 studies support the healing properties of curcumin, the active ingredient in the Indian curry spice turmeric. A strong anti-inflammatory, curcumin relieves joint pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and other inflammatory conditions, as well as helps to prevent cancer and dementia. Common dosage: 400–600 mg of standardized curcumin, 3 times daily. In turmeric supplements, check the curcumin content.

Boswellia In traditional Indian medicine, the herb has been used for centuries to treat inflammatory and respiratorydiseases. In research published in Phytomedicine and other journals, boswellia improved both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms by reducing inflammation. Common dosage: 300–400 mg of a standardized extract, 3 times daily.

MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) A sulfur-containing compound found in small amounts in food, MSM reduces all types of arthritis pain, according to research published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage and other journals. It can also help heal sports injuries. Common dosage: 500–2,500 mg, 3 times daily in supplements, or rubbed onto painful areas in lotions or creams.

Vitamin D A review of studies published in Practical Pain Management found that low levels of vitamin D correspond with higher incidence of back, joint, and other types of chronic pain, and recommended a total intake of 2,400–2,800 IU daily from all sources. Vitamin D levels can be checked by your doctor, and if very low, may require temporary high-dose supplements by prescription.

Fish Oil In a study of 43 arthritis patients, a regimen of fish oil paired with olive oil reduced morning stiffness and improved hand dexterity after 24 weeks. Other studies found that lower doses of anti-inflammatory medications were required for those who take fish oil supplements. Daily dosage: 3 g of EPA/DHA from fish oil; 2 teaspoons of olive oil.

I-FLEX Also known as LitoZin in Europe, this proprietary, anti-inflammatory rosehip formulation reduced pain in nearly 300 people with osteoarthritis, according to a review of studies published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage. In another study, published in Phytomedicine, i-flex reduced pain among 89 rheumatoid arthritis patients. Test-tube studies show that it may also help regenerate cartilage. Daily dosage: 5 g.

Celadrin Several studies, including those published in the Journal of Rheumatology and the Journal of Strength & Conditioning, have found that Celadrin supplements (a proprietary blend of fatty acids) reduce inflammation, enhance the structure of cell membranes, reduce pain, and improve joint function, with relief beginning after about two weeks and increasing with prolonged use. Topical Celadrin cream begins to relieve pain in about 30 minutes. Daily supplement dosage: 1,000 mg.

A Three-Pronged Approach

According to Jay Udani, MD, assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine and CEO of Medicus Research, you can expect three types of benefits from joint-supporting supplements: reduced inflammation, pain relief, and joint structure support. For optimum benefits, Udani recommends a combination of supplements that together provide benefits in all three areas. An example would be a topical cream for fast pain relief; Celadrin, i-flex, or an herbal formula to control inflammation; and glucosamine or NEM to restore joint structure.

1 Ease Inflammation

Supplements can reduce or stop what Udani calls an “inflammatory cascade” generated by earlier joint trauma, such as sports injuries and repetitive micro trauma. The cascade is a self-perpetuating cycle that involves a variety of inflammatory substances in our bodies, and these wear away at joint cartilage. Supplements shown to be strong anti-inflammatories include Celadrin, a proprietary form of fatty acids; i-flex, a proprietary form of rosehips; and herbs such as turmeric, ginger, and boswellia.

2 Relieve Discomfort

Topical remedies, such as Celadrin cream, Tiger Balm, and capsaicin creams, are fast-acting natural substances that relieve injury-related or chronic joint pain. “They temporarily reduce discomfort,” says Udani, much like massage, acupressure, or acupuncture. Capsaicin cream, for example, temporarily interferes with the transmission of pain signals from nerve endings.

3 Rebuild

“Once you reduce inflammation,” says Udani, “You can rebuild the cartilage surface.” Collagen and hyaluronic acid lubricate joint tissues. In addition to being available as individual supplements, collagen, hyaluronic acid, and chondroitin are among the ingredients that are naturally present in a proprietary form of eggshell supplement, NEM (Natural Eggshell Membrane).

Don’t give up if you don’t see results right away. Compared to pharmaceuticals that may have unwanted side effects (such as increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding), the benefits of oral joint supplements take longer to become apparent. Rather than just masking symptoms, natural substances work to remedy underlying conditions—such as inflammation and cartilage degradation—without doing harm. “Be patient,” says Udani, “Most studies have shown results in several weeks.”