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Dietary Supplements for Osteoarthritis

What Does the Research Really Show?

-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian
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(Please note that only a few studies have examined glucosamine hydrochloride, which has mixed results and lacks evidence to support its use.)

Chondroitin sulfate is a molecule that gives cartilage its resistance and elasticity. According to preliminary studies, chondroitin sulfate:
  • May improve osteoarthritis symptoms and slow its progression.
  • Appears to more effectively reduce pain and improve function when taken with analgesics or non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (than analgesics or non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs alone).
  • May not be better than placebos, according to a recent study.
  • Does not carry "mad cow" disease. Even though chondroitin sulfate is often derived from animal (cow and pig) tracheas, bovine trachea does not seem to carry this particular disease. While the risk is small, some people prefer not to use this product in favor of marine-derived (shark) sources of chondroitin sulfate.
(Please note that glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate are often combined, but the evidence to support this combination is limited.)

SAMe (s-adenosylmethionine) is a compound produced in the body. Your liver makes it from the amino acid methionine, and it plays an essential role in the formation of hormones, neurotransmitters, and phospholipids. The preferred form of SAMe is the butanedisulfonate salt, which has the highest bioavailability and is more stable than the tosylate salt. Preliminary research indicates that SAMe:
  • May help increase the production of cartilage cells and thickness.
  • Is just as effective as anti-inflammatory pain killers in treating osteoarthritis, but has fewer side effects.
  • May require up to 30 days of treatment before noticeable relief occurs.
  • May not be safe for people taking medication for bipolar or depressive disorders. These individuals must watch for drug interactions, since SAMe can affect serotonin levels.
(Please note that SAMe can be a very costly supplement.)
Fair Choices: "Possibly Effective" Supplements
These supplements show some promise for helping people with osteoarthritis, but aren't backed by as much research as the choices above.

Vitamin Supplements
  • Beta-carotene is the precursor to vitamin A, found in red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables and dark-green leafy vegetables. Beta-carotene supplements do not prevent osteoarthritis, but may slow the progression of the disease. Learn more about beta carotene by reading Foods that Fight Osteoarthritis.
  • Vitamin C. Consuming vitamin C from foods seemed to reduce the risk of cartilage loss and disease progression. Learn more about vitamin C by reading Foods that Fight Osteoarthritis.
  • Vitamin B-3. Vitamin B-3 is made up of niacin (nicotinic acid) and its amide, niacinamide, and can be found in yeast, meat, fish, milk, eggs, green vegetables, and cereal grains. A three-gram divided dosage of niacin and niacinamide seemed to improve joint flexibility and reduce inflammation of osteoarthritis when taken daily. Continued ›
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

    I think I would like to see 3 groupings for me to choose.
    I would not like to shove more medication into me.
    I would like to see natural supplements clearly differentiated as to whether safe for vegetarians or vegans, also gluten free - 3 main categories for me and in family.
    Also I would like to see herbs and spices clearly spoken of.
    I would love lists of foods to use.
    I then may choose herbs that will not clash with meds, and really prefer food, spice and herb options as salads, casseroles, and soups and smoothies are becoming the staple of my dietary arrangements for certain health issues, including vital weight loss.
    Oh, is that all? Any chance? Thank you. - 5/19/2013 7:19:51 AM
  • How do I change my nutrition planner to one that will help me plan my meals for osteoarthritis.
    Thank you, I am anxiously awaiting a reply. I am desperate. - 5/27/2012 1:21:59 PM
  • These articles are very informative and should aid those who are looking for help with osteoarthritis supplements. Good job! - 4/1/2009 11:22:13 AM
  • I just had surgery on my shoulder for a bone spur and found out I have it. This article taught me alot. - 10/31/2008 2:29:20 AM
    This is an EXCELLENT article on dietary supplements for osteoarthritis. Being diagnosed with it a few years back, I decided to use supplements after taking prescription drugs that had ill effects for me. The supplements have slowed progression and provide some relief...I can't take most pain relievers because of my NAFLD liver disease. It's great to have confirmation that I am on the right track with the supplements. One thing that I wish the article had addressed was the recommended dosage of the supplements. - 6/11/2008 10:31:51 AM