Key supplements to your joints feeling and working perfectly
Dwayne N. Jackson, PhD
Your New Year’s resolution is in full effect, workouts are going well, and your diet is in check— it looks like you are going to be in the best shape of your life by summer! BUT, you have been noticing that your joints are starting to feel tight and sore during and after training.
No pain, no gain— right? Well, in this case, absolutely not! Joint pain from wear and tear, old injuries, and overtraining can limit the intensity of your workouts and undercut muscle growth. In fact, working through join pain is a guaranteed way to sideline your training and eventually cause long-term joint damage.
The most common approach to tackling joint issues is to take over the counter drugs aimed at decreasing inflammation and pain. Although drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen do a great job, they only mask the symptoms of underlying problems, can have significant side effects, and may even blunt muscle recovery and growth. Thankfully, there are a number of naturally based supplements that can manage symptoms of joint pain and regenerate weak/damaged joints—- without hampering muscle recovery and growth.
Joint supplements tend to be marketed and used by “casualties” of past joint injuries and/or those of us who are getting a little long in the tooth. However, it is a little known fact that most joint supplements provide a layer of protection, regardless of your age or injury status. Read on to find out how you can avoid putting your joints up in smoke!
Ironically, training for muscle growth creates inflammation, which is necessary for maximizing development. Nonetheless, when you overdo it, excessive joint inflammation can occur and may derail subsequent workouts. This is why we recommend specifically managing joint inflammation with supplements, thus leaving you only with the good pain that is needed to gain. Here are the top 3 supplements in this category:
MSM is a sulfur-containing compound normally found in many of the foods we eat. It is chemically related to DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide), a popular topical treatment for arthritis. DMSO actually breaks down to become MSM in the body after it crosses the skin. Oral MSM provides the body with organic sulfur that improves blood flow and decreases joint inflammation. A pilot clinical trial, published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage in 2006, reported that MSM (3 g twice per day) improved symptoms of knee pain and physical function in subjects with osteoarthritis in just 12 weeks without major adverse events.
DOSE: Recommendations vary from 6 to 15 g daily, usually divided up into 3 daily doses. Take with meals. It can take up to 3 months to feel benefits. Take MSM with chondroitin and glucosamine (below) for best results.
Kim LS, Axelrod LJ, Howard P, Buratovich N, Waters RF. Efficacy of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) in osteoarthritis pain of the knee: a pilot clinical trial. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2006 Mar;14(3):286-94.
The pomegranate originated in the part of the world that is now Iran. This fruit has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Today, it’s often listed as a “superfood” due to its high concentration of antioxidants and healthy polyphenols. Pomegranate extract exerts anti-inflammatory actions by inhibiting the activity of the several inflammatory factors including nuclear factor κ-light chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-κB), cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). In one study, prodelphinidin, tannin found in pomegranate, inhibited the production of such inflammatory factors in human chondrocytes (the cells that make up our joint cushioning cartilage). In a recent study published in Chemico-Biological Interactions, punicalagin (a polyphenol found in pomegranate) was reported to inhibit the activity of MMP-13, an enzyme that breaks down collagen (a major constituent of our joint cartilage). Pomegranate supplementation was also found to inhibit inflammation and decrease cartilage degeneration in arthritic rats. Scientific extrapolation leads to the valid conclusion that supplementing pomegranate extract will also help reduce human inflammation.
DOSE: Due to differences in potency of extracts among manufacturers, take as directed.
Jean-Gilles D, Li L, Vaidyanathan VG, King R, Cho B, Worthen DR, Chichester CO 3rd, Seeram NP. Inhibitory effects of polyphenol punicalagin on type-II collagen degradation in vitro and inflammation in vivo. Chem Biol Interact. 2013 Sep 25;205(2):90-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2013.06.018. Epub 2013 Jul 2.
Garbacki, N.; Angenot, L.; Bassleer, C.; Damas, J.; Tits, M. Effects of prodelphinidins isolated from Ribes nigrum on chondrocyte metabolism and COX activity. Naunyn. Schmiedebergs. Arch. Pharmacol. 2002, 365, 434–441.
Leong DJ, Choudhury M, Hirsh DM, Hardin JA, Cobelli NJ, Sun HB. Nutraceuticals: potential for chondroprotection and molecular targeting of osteoarthritis. Int J Mol Sci. 2013 Nov 21;14(11):23063-85. doi: 10.3390/ijms141123063.
This is a patented gum resin extract taken from the ancient herb Boswellia serrata. It is standardized to 3-O-Acetyl-11-keto-beta-Boswellic Acid (AKBA)-enriched Boswellia serrata extract, a compound which has novel anti-inflammatory properties. Its anti-inflammatory actions are due to its ability to block 5-lipoxygenase— a key enzyme involved in leukotriene biosynthesis. Leukotrienes are considered potent mediators of inflammatory and allergic reactions. In 2008, a double blind, randomized, placebo controlled study published in Arthritis Research and Therapy illustrated that 5-Loxin safely reduces pain and improves physical function in knee osteoarthritis sufferers. They noted significant effects in as little as 7 days of treatment. The researchers concluded that 5-Loxin supplementation may exert its beneficial effect through management of inflammation and improvements in joint health by reducing degradation of cartilage.
DOSE: Due to differences in potency of extracts among manufacturers, take as directed.
Lalithakumari K1, Krishnaraju AV, Sengupta K, Subbaraju GV, Chatterjee A.
Safety and Toxicological Evaluation of a Novel, Standardized 3-O-Acetyl-11-keto-beta-Boswellic Acid (AKBA)-Enriched Boswellia serrata Extract (5-Loxin(R)). Toxicol Mech Methods. 2006;16(4):199-226.
Sengupta K1, Alluri KV, Satish AR, Mishra S, Golakoti T, Sarma KV, Dey D, Raychaudhuri SP. A double blind, randomized, placebo controlled study of the efficacy and safety of 5-Loxin for treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee. Arthritis Res Ther. 2008;10(4):R85.
The primary purpose of these supplements is to reduce the amount of pain you feel. When you’re injured, pain is a signal to stop doing what caused the problem in the first place. But your body can sometimes be a little overenthusiastic on this front, creating more pain and inflammation than is necessary. Analgesic supplements will help blunt pain so you don’t suffer while you’re recovering. They shouldn’t be used, however, to override common sense, which is telling you to rest the injured joint or area.
S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is a naturally occurring compound that is found in almost every tissue and fluid in the body. It plays a role in the immune system and maintains important brain neurotransmitters, including serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine. Its production is tightly linked to the human body’s vitamin B12 and folate (B9) levels.
SAMe is a natural pain killer that has been shown to be as effective as the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) ibuprofen and naproxen at relieving pain and stiffness from knee, hip, and spine osteoarthritis.
DOSE: Get in 200-800mg 2-3 times per day on an empty stomach. Start with a low dose to avoid stomach upset and work up based on need. To enhance absorption you can try taking SAMe with vitamin B12, folic acid, methionine, and trimethylglycine (betaine). Some feel immediate relief, but it may take a few days or even weeks to get the maximum effect. SAMe is safe and tolerable, and it has fewer, less consequential side effects than NSAIDs.
Rosehip powder is extracted from fruits of the rose plant, and it has been used extensively in traditional medicine. Rosehip is a concentrated source of antioxidants that includes vitamin C, lycopene, carotene, and flavonoids, as well as polyphenols (quercetin and ellagic acid). This combination is thought to ease joint inflammation and prevent joint damage. Rosehip extracts have been shown to blunt the expression inflammatory agents (i.e., iNOS and IL-1α, and IL-1β-induced IL-1α and IL-8) in cells within cartilage. Scientific support for its pain-relieving effects comes from a recent meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials published in 2012, which concluded that rosehip powder reduced pain and led to decreased use of analgesics in osteoarthritis patients. Some osteoarthritis sufferers report pain relief of up to 90%.
DOSE: The most promising data come from research that used 20 g per day split into 4 doses (5 g each). Take with meals and analgesic effects are usually noted within 2 weeks.
Christensen, R.; Bartels, E.M.; Altman, R.D.; Astrup, A.; Bliddal, H. Does the hip powder of Rosa canina (rosehip) reduce pain in osteoarthritis patients? —A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Osteoarthr. Cartilage 2008, 16, 965–972.
Curcumin is commonly found in turmeric and curry based food, but has recently been recently under the experimental spotlight as a supplement to increase health and well-being. Meriva is a proprietary lecithin formulation of curcumin, which has been reported to have analgesic (i.e., pain relieving) and anti-inflammatory properties. A recent study published in the Journal of Pain Research reported that taking 2 g of Meriva (corresponding to 400 mg of curcumin) was as effective for pain relief as a standard (1 g) dose of acetaminophen! A previous (2010) review on the efficacy of Meriva, concluded that it is a potent and safe agent for the management of osteoarthritis, inflammation, and overall improvement in quality of life. Based on these studies Meriva seems like a safe alternative to anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs.
DOSE: Based on research, take 500-1000 mg twice per day with food.
Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, Dugall M, Pellegrini L, Ledda A, Grossi MG, Togni S, Appendino G. Efficacy and safety of Meriva®, a curcumin-phosphatidylcholine complex, during extended administration in osteoarthritis patients. Altern Med Rev. 2010 Dec;15(4):337-44.
Di Pierro F, Rapacioli G, Di Maio EA, Appendino G, Franceschi F, Togni S.
Comparative evaluation of the pain-relieving properties of a lecithinized formulation of curcumin (Meriva(®)), nimesulide, and acetaminophen. J Pain Res. 2013;6:201-5.
Taking these supplements will help your body maintain healthy cartilage, the flexible connective tissue that’s necessary for strong joint function. They are particularly beneficial for helping your body repair cartilage that has been worn away by time, intense training or other lifestyle factors, or protecting your joints from injury.
This aminosaccaride, which is an important precursor to glycosaminoglycans such as chondroitin (see below). This amino sugar is also an integral component of the shells in crustaceans (shell fish) — the source from which glucosamine sulfate supplements are generally derived. In our bodies, glucosamine is an important component of synovial fluid, the body’s natural joint lubricant. It’s also a major structural component of cartilage. Having plenty of this lubricant and structural integrity help maintain smooth joint-cushioning cartilage in the body.
Taking a glucosamine supplement has been shown to increase sulfate uptake and boost synovial fluid production in joints and help generate new cartilage by activating cells called chrondrocytes. These actions slow cartilage degeneration, repair connective tissue, and keep your joints moving smoothly. In a recent clinical trial published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases it was shown that those with chronic knee pain who took a combination of glucosamine and chrondroitin over 2 years, had significant improvements in joint health as indicated by decreased joint space narrowing.
DOSE: Take 1.5-2 grams per day in 3 divided doses with food. Glucosamine is commonly stacked with chondroitin (see below) for synergistic joint protection. It can take up to 3 months to feel benefits, but some notice benefits after only a few days.
Fransen M, Agaliotis M, Nairn L, Votrubec M, Bridgett L, Su S, Jan S, March L, Edmonds J, Norton R, Woodward M, Day R; on behalf of the LEGS study collaborative group. Glucosamine and chondroitin for knee osteoarthritis: a double-blind randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial evaluating single and combination regimens. Ann Rheum Dis. 2014 Jan 6. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-203954. [Epub ahead of print]
Like glucosamine, this glycosaminoglycan plays an important structural role in joint cartilage. Chondroitin supplements are generally made from isolating the compound from animal cartilage. Chondroitin is a primary structural component of joint cartilage. In supplements, it’s commonly combined with glucosamine and used to treat osteoarthritis and joint inflammation. For advanced weight-training athletes, using this supplement is beneficial for treating and avoiding joint problems.
DOSE: Take 1-1.5 grams per day in 3 divided doses with food. Chondroitin and glucosamine (above) have a synergistic effect, so take them together. It can take up to 3 months to notice benefits. But, as with, glucosamine, you may see results after only a few days.