Vitamin C over Summer - Pineapple
Vitamin C – Your New Summer Essential
November 7, 2019

Demystifying Joint Supplements…

Person running up stairs, probably uses joint supplements!

Finally! The warmer weather has arrived! With it comes all the fun summer activities just waiting to be indulged in with friends and family.  The last thing you need is for niggly joints to slow you down. Kelly, one of our in-house naturopaths has shed some light on joint supplements helping you support your joint health.

Kelly, Help! There are so many supplements to support my joint health, but which one should I take?

Great question!

Yes, there are a lot and it can definitely be confusing. It helps to first understand what support you need, which helps to narrow down the best option.

Generally, joint products fall into three basic types:-

  1. First, there are joint nutrition formulas. These contain ingredients that act as raw materials. The body uses these to rebuild connective tissue – such as cartilage and the fluid inside joints that provide cushioning and lubrication. These products contain ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin, various minerals etc.  These provide great long-term support.
  2. The second group help to support the body’s response to inflammation and improve the comfort of joints.  These products typically contain herbs or nutrients that have particular anti-inflammatory properties. They’re best used when you need more immediate joint comfort.
  3. The third group combine the best of both groups – providing both joint nutrition and support for inflammation.  Often, these can be food-based products – such as Green Lipped Mussel extract. They combine both anti-inflammatories as well as joint building nutrition.

To hone in even further on choosing the right product, it’s useful to know the joint problem’s background. Especially what has caused the joint problem in the first place.  This is where speaking with a naturopath or herbalist can be very helpful to guide the right product choice. Someone whose joint problems arose due to gout has different needs to someone whose joint problems arose from joint degeneration.  Green Lipped Mussel, for instance, would not be the best choice for the gout sufferer so a herbal product like Celery Seed would potentially be a better option.

Can you give us a one-sentence rundown of some of the top joint supplement ingredients?

Sure, here goes!

  • MSM: This is a naturally-occurring form of sulphur. An essential building block for strong connective tissue and cartilage, improving blood circulation and providing anti-inflammatory benefits to reduce pain and swelling in joints.  It is known that degenerative joints can contain up to 60% less sulphur than healthy joints.
  • Glucosamine:  Our bodies can naturally make glucosamine from glucose and the amino acid glutamine. It forms a fundamental building block of cartilage and connective tissue.  Our ability to make this in our bodies naturally declines with age so it can be an important nutrient to supplement with.
  • Turmeric: This herb used traditionally in Indian Ayurvedic medicine contains a number of active plant molecules one of which is the well-known ‘Curcumin’, responsible for Turmeric’s bright yellow colour and its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity which together help to improve joint comfort and relieve stiffness.
  • Fish Oil:  Made up of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids including EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). These are essential for the body as we cannot produce them ourselves. They help maintain the health of our joints through an anti-inflammatory action that supports joint mobility and flexibility, as well as supporting our brain, heart, circulation and skin.
  • Chondroitin: A naturally-occurring substance in the body (along with glucosamine). Used as a building block of connective tissues, including cartilage, that reduces pain and inflammation, improves joint function and slows joint degeneration.

Providing our body with good amounts of these raw materials needed for joint repair is critical for healthy, happy joints.

What’s best if I have pain in my knees?

It all depends on the individual!

Knee pain can be the result of an acute injury or due to wear and tear, or longer-term inflammation resulting in a progressive breakdown of cartilage, which leads to pain, sometimes swelling and often reduced mobility.  Choosing the best product comes down to the nature of the problem, what caused it, and an understanding of what the individual’s overall health picture is like.

If the problem has been of long duration, I’d suggest using an anti-inflammatory formula as well as joint nutrition. This might look like a specific Curcumin (Turmeric) product with a joint formula that contains key joint building blocks like glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM plus supporting minerals such as zinc, copper and boron. Here, for example, I’d recommend Nutra-Life Turmeric Meriva Curcumin 550 with Nutra-Life Joint Formula + MSM.

Some people might prefer a food-based option. I’d suggest a Green Lipped Mussel extract like Nutra-Life New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel 5600.  They may or may not also need extra anti-inflammatory support if discomfort is getting in the way of quality of life.

Speaking with a naturopath can be the quickest way to get to the heart of the problem and prevent the trial and error approach to working out what works best – it saves money in the long run!

What if I don’t have joint pain yet, should I be taking a supplement for maintenance?

Again, it comes back to the individual and what’s best for them.  Young athletes, generating a lot of force and potential damage on their joints or someone who is in their middle years and experiencing some niggles may well benefit from a joint nutrition formula. The formulas can help provide the right support for their body to keep cartilage and other connective tissue healthy.

A good magnesium supplement is a good idea whenever there is inflammation. Magnesium can be depleted by inflammatory changes in the body and low magnesium levels worsen underlying inflammation. Plus, it supports recovery for athletes and anyone working out and helps to relieve muscle spasms and cramps which may be contributing to general discomfort.

Anyone whose diet is less than ideal (one high in sugars, animal foods, processed fats etc) would also benefit from supporting their joint and bone health. This type of diet can create an acidic burden on the body which leaches minerals from bones and sets the scene for inflammatory damage.  In this case, it may be as simple as making dietary changes to prevent problems in the long-term.

What are some other ways of supporting my joints?

There are lots of dietary and lifestyle changes we can make to improve the comfort of our joints and feel more limber in daily life.

Diet

Our diets have a huge impact on the potential to develop joint problems. Making improvements here can be one of the quickest ways to stave off long-term problems and support joint health.

A standard Western diet is typically high in red meat, animal products, sugary drinks, processed and fried foods, refined carbohydrates and sugars whilst low in plant foods and fibre. This can trigger the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals whilst also reducing our body’s ability to produce anti-inflammatory chemicals.  This sets the scene for low-grade, chronic inflammation. Over time this can cause damage to cells and tissues leading to degeneration and resulting in conditions like osteoarthritis. Unlike acute inflammation which we can see and feel, we can’t see or feel low-grade, chronic inflammation. Moving to a more plant-based, whole food diet that limits inflammatory foods is the best way to improve joint health.

Obesity is another factor that increases the ‘wear and tear’ of joints. Particularly affected are the weight-bearing joints of hips and knees, increasing overall inflammation which can lead to degeneration.  So keeping to a normal weight will benefit your joints over the long-run.

Physical Activity

Keeping physically active is important. Exercise has been shown to be an effective method for reducing pain and improving movement and range of motion in those with joint degeneration.  Whilst there is a tendency to worry that exercise might damage cartilage and increase the risk for joint problems, research shows the reverse is actually true. Cartilage, the material that covers the ends of bones preventing them from rubbing against each other and providing cushioning from impacts, doesn’t have much blood supply to provide it with nutrients required for repair and regeneration.  Cartilage needs nutrients, they’re provided by the joint fluid that surrounds it in the joint space. Exercise compresses joints and forces this nutrient-rich fluid into cartilage.  Recent evidence shows people who performed the most vigorous weight-bearing exercise actually had the thickest and healthiest knee cartilage.

So the take-home message here is: eat your greens and get outside and keep active!

We’re hoping this has been as helpful for you as it was for us!

If you have any questions about the health of your joints, please get in touch with one of our in-house naturopaths.