Supplements for joint pain are big business. But as supplements are regulated by the food standards agency, they are not subject to the same tests of effectiveness as pharmaceuticals, and some are better than others.
Over £389 million of supplements were sold in the UK last year. This includes sports supplements such as protein shakes, right through to capsules of garlic or ginger, with a sizeable proportion being aimed at customers suffering with joint pain.
Clearly, joint pain comes in many different guises and so it is essential that it be properly diagnosed before trialling nutritional approaches.
Of the supplements available for joint pain, the most popular are Omega-3 and Glucosamine.
Omega-3 is generally derived from fish oils, but can come from seeds. It is commonly advocated as useful for relief of osteoarthritis.
Research, as with many other supplements, is lacking. However, the studies that have looked into the effects of taking Omega-3 on joint pain reported by people suffering osteoarthritis have revealed very modest outcomes at best.
Omega-3 has a small anti-inflammatory action that may help sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis, but that its effects on osteoarthritis are minimal.
Glucosamine is probably the most confusing supplement when it comes to joint pain. It normally comes with other substances, namely chondroitin or MSM (methylsufonylmethane). It also comes as Glucosmaine Sulphate and Glucosamine Hydrochloride.
Well, for a start, research suggests that Glucosamine Sulphate is the most likely to have a benefit, so that’s what we’ll consider.
Glucosamine Sulphate has been shown not to help back pain, but there is some evidence to suggest people with osteoarthritis may benefit from taking it. There appears to be little extra benefit to taking glucosamine with chondroitin, however combining it with MSM may be more effective than taking Glucosamine alone.
Supplements can be a mystifying topic, and the weight of conflicting information makes it more so. And just because supplements are not prescribed it does not mean there are no possible side-effects.
It is essential to get advice, either from your GP, chiropractor, dietician or pharmacist before taking supplements.