Natural products for joint health are becoming more popular as research shows benefits for ingredients that help support those suffering from joint pain and stiffness. While previously thought of only for seniors with osteoarthritis, joint health products are increasingly consumed by younger people who lead an active lifestyle and seek to maintain joint health before problems arise.
But higher demand means more products to choose from. So how do you know which ingredients to focus on and which have the best research behind them?
To help you decide, let’s take a closer look at some of the top joint health ingredients.
Collagen is the primary component of connective tissue in the human body and comprises 25-35% of the body’s protein content. It is also a big molecule, and in its complete form, could not be absorbed from the gut. That’s why the collagen found in most products has been hydrolyzed, which is a technical term for a process that breaks down a molecule into smaller components.
One recent study, published in the July 2021 issue of the journal Nutrients, found that hydrolyzed collagen effectively improved mobility and reduced joint pain and stiffness in adults.1 This was a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, considered the gold standard in health research.
MSM is a bioavailable form of sulfur, an essential element found in the body in a similar proportion to potassium. It’s been studied for effects on the body’s antioxidant status, inflammation management, and skin health, as well as for joints.
One randomized, double-blind, controlled clinical trial of patients with osteoarthritis (OA) showed improved physical function and pain. However, the improvements were marginal, unclear if they had clinical significance.2
Indeed, most research studies investigating MSM have looked at it in combination with other constituents, reflecting its usage in the real world more accurately. Another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that MSM in combination with glucosamine concluded that “combination therapy showed better efficacy in reducing pain and swelling and in improving the functional ability of joints than the individual agents.”3
This study brings us to the next ingredient to consider for joint health: glucosamine.
Though there are several forms of glucosamine available on the market, glucosamine sulfate is the one that’s been most studied. A systematic review of randomized controlled trials comprising 4963 patients found the Rotta preparation of glucosamine sulfate to be “superior to placebo in the treatment of pain, and functional impairment” for osteoarthritis; however, it did note that the results were not uniformly positive, for unknown reasons.4
Again, we find that studies looking at joint health ingredients in combination offer more positive results. One randomized, double-blind trial found that combined glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate had comparable efficacy to the prescription drug celecoxib “in reducing pain, stiffness, functional limitation and joint swelling/effusion” after six months of treatment.5
Chondroitin sulfate is a substance primarily found in joint cartilage. A randomized, double-blind clinical study investigating chondroitin for the treatment of OA in the knee found it to be useful for pain control.6
Yet another double-blind, randomized, controlled clinical trial- this one with chondroitin, glucosamine, and MSM- suggested a benefit for patients with OA of the knee.
Of additional note is that patients receiving chondroitin and glucosamine, but not MSM, did not fare any better than those receiving placebo.
Additional Joint Health Ingredients
There are a whole host of other nutraceuticals that may be useful in treating joint pain and arthritis. While we will not go over these in further detail, some of the notable mentions include: anthocyanins, capsaicin, curcumin, gingerol, omega-3 fatty acids, pycnogenol, and vitamin D.7
Many of these are effective anti-inflammatories and come as little surprise in showing benefit for those with inflammation in the joints.
While it’s important to note that positive health studies on natural products marketed for joint health are rarely conclusive- and often counter matched by negative studies- there is a consensus that most of these are safe when used as directed and under the supervision of a physician.
No product works for everybody, including pharmaceutical drugs. However, when searching for a joint health product, it is advisable to look for something that includes at least three of the four ingredients we’ve discussed here, along with anti-inflammatory herbs and a full complement of bone health minerals such as boron silica, manganese, and zinc.
1. Mohammed A, He S. A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial to Evaluate the Efficacy of a Hydrolyzed Chicken Collagen Type II Supplement in Alleviating Joint Discomfort. Nutrients. 2021;13(7):2454. doi:10.3390/nu13072454
2. Debbi EM, Agar G, Fichman G, et al. Efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane supplementation on osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized controlled study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011;11(1):50. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-11-50
3. Usha PR, Naidu MUR. Randomised, Double-Blind, Parallel, Placebo-Controlled Study of Oral Glucosamine, Methylsulfonylmethane and their Combination in Osteoarthritis: Clinical Drug Investigation. 2004;24(6):353-363. doi:10.2165/00044011-200424060-00005
4. Towheed T, Maxwell L, Anastassiades TP, et al. Glucosamine therapy for treating osteoarthritis. Cochrane Musculoskeletal Group, ed. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2005;2009(4). doi:10.1002/14651858.CD002946.pub2
5. Hochberg MC, Martel-Pelletier J, Monfort J, et al. Combined chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine for painful knee osteoarthritis: a multicentre, randomised, double-blind, non-inferiority trial versus celecoxib. Ann Rheum Dis. 2016;75(1):37-44. doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2014-206792
6. Morita M, Yamada K, Date H, Hayakawa K, Sakurai H, Yamada H. Efficacy of Chondroitin Sulfate for Painful Knee Osteoarthritis: A One-Year, Randomized, Double-Blind, Multicenter Clinical Study in Japan. Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 2018;41(2):163-171. doi:10.1248/bpb.b17-00556
7. Colletti A, Cicero AFG. Nutraceutical Approach to Chronic Osteoarthritis: From Molecular Research to Clinical Evidence. IJMS. 2021;22(23):12920. doi:10.3390/ijms222312920