Odds are, you're already taking some kind of supplement, even if it's just a multivitamin. And if you're struggling with arthritis pain, you might be tempted to try anything to get relief. But before opening your wallet, consider this: Dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the same way as prescription medications. In fact, supplement makers do not have to prove the safety or effectiveness of their products'which means you can't always trust what's on the label.
Diabetes Mellitis (Type II)
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That said, some people do find arthritis supplements helpful, and research suggests certain ones may be worth a try. To help separate fact from fiction, we asked rheumatologist Scott Zashin, MD, who's overseen clinical trials for both prescription medication and supplements, to give us the scoop on these common arthritis supplements. Read on for his insight!
Used for: osteoarthritis (OA) pain relief
What we know: Some research shows glucosamine sulfate may help relieve OA pain, particularly of the knee, says Dr. Zashin, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, and author of Natural Arthritis Treatment (Sarah Allison Publishing, 2012). Other studies, however, found glucosamine worked no better than a placebo.
Usual dosage/precautions: 1,500 milligrams (mg) a day. Take glucosamine sulfate, not hydrochloride. Use cautiously if you have diabetes, since it may affect blood sugar. It may also cause stomach upset (e.g., nausea and diarrhea). Glucosamine is made from purified shellfish, so consult your doctor if you're allergic to seafood.
Bottom line: It's somewhat effective, says Dr. Zashin. But it's not yet recommended in the OA guidelines of the American College of Rheumatology. Dr. Zashin doesn't recommend the supplement chondroitin (which is often paired with glucosamine), noting there's little evidence to support its use for OA pain relief.
Avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASU)
Used for: OA pain relief
What we know: ASU is a natural vegetable extract made from avocado and soybean oils. A few studies have found that ASU can help ease knee or hip pain when compared with a sugar pill, notes Dr. Zashin. Positive effects are generally seen after three months, so you'll need to try it for at least that long to find out if it works for you.
Usual dosage/precautions: 300 mg a day. ASU can irritate the stomach.
Bottom line: It may be helpful, but more studies are needed.
Tart cherries (concentrated)
Used for: joint pain, reducing inflammation, sleep problems
What we know: Preliminary research shows that concentrated tart cherries, made from the skin and pulp of the Montmorency cherry, can be helpful for relieving OA pain and lowering inflammation, says Dr. Zashin. Other small studies hint that the concentrated juice can cut the risk of gout flares due to the fruit's inflammation-fighting properties. However, researchers say the juice did not affect uric acid (an important gout marker) and should not be used to replace gout medication. Dr. Zashin also notes that the concentrated fruit contains natural melatonin, a hormone that helps people fall sleep.
Usual dosage/precautions: For the pill form, follow the directions on the label. For the concentrated juice, drink 8 ounces twice a day. Side effects may include diarrhea and mild rashes. It's unclear how the concentrated cherry formula interacts with other medications or affects blood tests.
Bottom line: It may be helpful, but more investigation is needed.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Used for: rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
What we know: Studies show
omega-3s, taken as fish oil, may help ease joint pain, tenderness and stiffness due to RA. To date, no human studies have been done to determine if fish oil is helpful for OA symptoms.
Usual dosage/precautions: 1 capsule, up to 4 times a day (maximum dose is 4,000 mg). High doses may thin the blood, so use with caution if you're taking blood thinners.
Bottom line: Omega-3s may help ease RA symptoms, says Dr. Zashin. But there's no evidence that taking fish oil can prevent or slow joint damage, an important goal of RA treatment.
Used for: reducing joint pain and inflammation
What we know: Research suggests that SAMe can help relieve OA pain, and a study in Clinical Therapeutics found it is especially helpful for knee OA.
Usual dosage/precautions: 600 to 1,200 mg daily. SAMe may interact with antidepressants and other drugs, and could trigger mood swings in people with bipolar disorder. Another important note: Dr. Zashin recommends taking a daily B complex vitamin to help prevent SAMe from forming a potentially harmful substance called homocysteine.
Bottom line: It may be helpful, but the evidence is mixed. Plus, the supplement is expensive. "Jean Weiss
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