How many joints does your body have? Well, let’s spare you from the task of identifying every single joint (an arduous journey undoubtedly peppered with frustrating questions, like "Are my knuckles joints?"). Just so you know: yes, your knuckles are joints. But that's not the point. Now, back to our question. While there is no definite answer, researchers estimate that the number of joints in a human body is between 250 and 350, which is a lot (1, 2, 3). This means that every movement you make—no matter how tiny—is bound to involve your joints.
Settling into a comfortable position on the sofa during family movie nights? Joints. Reaching for that ready-to-cook Mac and Cheese buried deep within your cupboards? Joints. Walking, climbing stairs, carrying groceries? Same thing. Joints, joints, and joints. So, imagine if, one day, your joints started aching. Literally, every move you make would hurt. That’s likely the last thing you want. But how could you keep your joints in tip-top, pain-free condition? Consider stocking up on the following seven (all-natural!) supplements.
What’s up with joint pain?
Before diving into the specific supplements beneficial for joint health, though, it’s helpful to understand why joints could start hurting in the first place. Joints are the areas where two or more bones meet. When a healthy joint moves, its bones glide against one another with minimal or no friction. This pain-free motion is only made possible because the boney surfaces are buffered by (4, 5, 6, 7):
- A layer of slick articular cartilage (between less than 1 mm to more than 6 mm thick)
- Slippery synovial fluid (roughly 0.15 to 4 mL)
Synovial fluid is made of water, hyaluronic acid, and albumin. In addition to providing cushion and lubrication to joints, it also delivers nutrients to—and removes waste from—the cartilage. So, everything’s fine when your cartilage and synovial fluid are functioning as they should be. After all, why shouldn’t they be?
Answer: the inevitable aging process. As you get older, your articular cartilage wears away and typically doesn't grow back (8). Plus, to add insult to injury, the amount of synovial fluid inside your joints also decreases with aging (9, 10). The result? Bone-on-bone rubbing: a whole lot of friction, which sets off inflammation. And there’s more bad news. Inflammation accelerates cartilage breakdown, leaving you stuck in an ever-escalating and seemingly inescapable cycle of joint pain (11, 12, 13).
But note the keyword "seemingly". In truth, with the right course of action, you could prevent yourself from getting stuck in the cycle in the first place. You could even get out of it. How? A possible first step to take is to turn to the following supplements.
Glucosamine is a natural compound made of glucose and the amino acid glutamine (14). Your body uses glucosamine to make glycosaminoglycan, a type of molecule central to cartilage formation and repair. Your body can produce adequate amounts of glucosamine to keep your joints as healthy as they can be when you're young—but that doesn't last. That's because glucosamine production slows with age. So, eventually, you'll lose more cartilage than your body can repair. And, at this point, you should know what that means (that’s right, pain and inflammation).
That’s where supplemental glucosamine comes in. It “replenishes” your body’s supply of glucosamine, promoting your body’s natural ability to repair and rebuild articular cartilage. Better yet, it also appears to readily reduce inflammation, potentially slowing your body’s rate of cartilage breakdown (15). But how effective is glucosamine at promoting joint health? This may help. In two separate studies, researchers found that 19 to 22-year-old soccer players and cyclists who took a high dose of glucosamine experienced a slower rate of joint cartilage degradation than those in the low-dose and placebo groups after three years (16, 17).
Because chondroitin is the most abundant glycosaminoglycan in cartilage, it benefits your joints in pretty much the same way as glucosamine (18). In other words: it enhances your body’s ability to repair and rebuild cartilage. In fact, it’s so effective at doing so that a 2020 review published in Aging Clinical and Experimental Research concluded that supplemental chondroitin might slow the progression of osteoarthritis (OA) while also decreasing the need for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (which come with adverse side effects, like increased risk for strokes) (19, 20).
Note: if you’re taking chondroitin, don’t forget to pair it with glucosamine. They’re like peanut butter and jelly; they just work better together. And no, we’re not joking. Lab studies show that combining these two compounds may lead to better joint health than if either were taken alone (21).
#3: Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
As complex- and scary-sounding as “methylsulfonylmethane” (MSM) may be, there’s nothing to fear. That's because it's a compound you could easily find in the foods you eat daily (22). More specifically, though, MSM is an organic sulfur-containing compound you’d find in fresh vegetables, meat, and dairy products. And it does amazing things for your joints. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory effects, MSM counters natural cartilage breakdown—and has been shown to relieve osteoarthritis symptoms, including joint stiffness, swelling, and pain (23, 24, 25).
So, does it mean that you should start hunting down MSM-rich foods to add to your diet? Well, not really for two reasons. First, foods that are “high in MSM” still contain relatively tiny amounts of the compound compared to what you'd need to experience maximum joint health benefit (typically more than 200 mg) (26). If one liter of milk, for example, only gives you 3 mg of MSM, how many liters of milk must you drink to hit 200 mg (27)? The answer is an almost 100% impossible 66 liters. And the second reason you shouldn’t get your MSM fix is this: food processing destroys MSM (28). Think about what’s in your kitchen right now. What’s unprocessed? Likely not many.
#4: Fish oil
You probably associate fish oil with cardiovascular, brain, and eye health—but joint health? Not so much. Well, here’s what you need to know. Fish oil is rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (29, 30). And if you’ve been paying attention, you should know what that means. Yep, that’s right: by fighting inflammation, fish oil helps your body counteract cartilage breakdown, in turn, potentially ensuring you enjoy pain-free movement for many years to come. But is there research to support this?
Oh, is there ever? Studies have shown the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil reduce the autoimmune inflammatory response in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), resulting in clinical improvements in the condition (31). Other studies suggest that their beneficial effects on joint health may extend beyond RA, too. The fatty acids in fish oil also reduce inflammation and increase joint lubrication in individuals with OA (32).
Right now, you’re probably a little sick of the word "anti-inflammatory". And we don't blame you. We have indeed been mentioning it a lot. So, to make things easier for you, know that all supplements mentioned from here on—from turmeric to Boswellia serrata to ginger—are anti-inflammatory (33, 34, 35, 36). We’ll skip that part and dive right into discussing the evidence. All you have to do now is bear in mind that this means they counter cartilage breakdown (but you knew that already, didn’t you?)
So, turmeric. Researchers found that daily supplementation of curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, helped alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms, including joint pain (37).
#6: Boswellia serrata (Indian frankincense)
According to a 2018 systematic review of 20 osteoarthritis-relieving supplements, Boswellia serrata extract ended up among the few shown to demonstrate large and clinically meaningful effects for osteoarthritic pain reduction in the short-term (38). More interestingly, it appears that Boswellia serrata may work in tandem with curcumin (i.e., turmeric) for superior results. A 12-week study comparing a curcumin supplement with a curcumin and Boswellia combination supplement found that the latter was more effective in osteoarthritis-related pain management (39).
In a 2016 study published in Natural Product Research, researchers found that ginger supplements effectively reduced joint inflammation and pain after knee surgery (40). Past studies show support for this finding. For example, researchers in a 2001 study found that highly concentrated doses of ginger extract were effective in treating individuals with osteoarthritis of the knee (41).
Searching for a potent, all-in-one joint health formula?
Finding a high-quality joint supplement is challenging enough. Add the requirements of needing it to contain both glucosamine and chondroitin, plus Boswellia serrata and curcumin, and you may find yourself combing through the dusty portions on the aisles of your neighborhood grocery store … and still come up empty-handed. Keep those gloves away. You don’t have to dirty your hands or draw strange looks from other people in the grocery store in your quest for better joint health.
Dr. Danielle’s Joint Assist Formula boasts a potent and harmonious mix of joint-boosting ingredients (from glucosamine to chondroitin to MSM to Boswellia serrata to curcumin, and more!) in a single, convenient serving. Click here and safeguard your joints.