Move Better + Support Joint Health with These 3 Nutrients
By Jake Boly
In this article:
As we go through life, especially those of us who are active, our joints take a slight beating due to everyday wear and tear from the accumulation of stress over long periods of time.
The natural deterioration can be caused by multiple factors such as the body needing more time to recover in-between times of heavy activity, the joints accumulating fatigue from overuse or underuse, and the body produces less natural compounds at the same levels that we did when we were young. Combine these factors with osteoarthritis, which affects millions of people, and you’re left with joints that can become painful, stiff and uncomfortable when going about daily life.
Since there’s no escaping the natural aging process, it’s up to us to combat joint discomfort with a strategy that aligns with our needs, wants and goals. In this article, we’ll discuss what causes joint discomfort, why exercise and diet are important for joint health, and three supplements that might assist with pain.
At the end of every joint, you’ll find a smooth rubbery connective tissue called cartilage. Each joint has its own respective amounts of cartilage and every individual will have various amounts surrounding said joint, too. The amount of cartilage that surrounds your joints is based on factors like genetics and lifestyle.
The deterioration of cartilage that comes along with the aging process that progresses past a normal level is often referred to as osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is considered a degenerative joint disease, and levels of its severity can vary from person to person.
Generally what happens when joint discomfort is present is the synovium — a membrane in the joint that produces fluid to keep the joints healthy — becomes inflamed and produces extra fluid, which results in swelling, stiffness and achy joints. If you’ve ever had a swollen knee, then more than likely you’ve experienced this process.
Regular exercise and diet are crucial for supporting joint health. A well-constructed workout plan will help the body maintain natural and healthy ranges of motion. At times, if the range of motion becomes limited, or we lack general strength, then we may compensate for faulty movement patterns, which can cause accumulation of stress on the joints.
This is why it’s incredibly important to continue remaining active with age at a respectable means within one’s limits. General strength training and cardio can both be useful tools to ensure the body is moving properly and maintaining upkeep at the joints.
On top of exercise, diet can also play a substantial role in joint health. While some foods have been suggested to assist with joint discomfort, in general, a great rule of thumb is to simply eat a balanced, natural diet that delivers the micronutrients we require on a daily basis.
Outside of exercise and diet, there are a few supplements that you can use to assist joints and manage any general pain associated with them. Like diet and exercise, supplements should be taken as part of an overall health-supportive strategy and with an understanding of one’s individual needs.
One of the most popular, go-to natural supplements for individuals experiencing joint discomfort and osteoarthritis is glucosamine.
Glucosamine is a natural compound found within cartilage in the body. Oftentimes, glucosamine will be taken as a supplement to decrease pain and general joint discomfort. Research is still a little scarce on the long-term effects of glucosamine, but generally, studies confirm that it may have some effect on the preservation and support of cartilage.
A meta-analysis published in 2018 in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology looked at the effects of glucosamine on joint cartilage health and preservation. Researchers included multiple studies that isolated the supplementation with glucosamine in populations that had various levels of osteoarthritis present.
Upon their analysis, the researchers noted that there was generally a slight benefit to taking a glucosamine supplement versus a placebo. It’s worth noting that authors suggest that the type of glucosamine matters when it comes to absorption and the time in which it’s consumed also matters. In their discussion, they note that generally, 12-weeks is enough time to start seeing a slight benefit with glucosamine and joint pain, however, research is still scarce on this timeline and longer durations will probably fare better.
Like glucosamine, chondroitin is found naturally in cartilage and plays a role in the preservation and repair of this connective tissue.
Oftentimes, chondroitin will be supplemented to reduce joint pain in combination with glucosamine. Similar to glucosamine, research is still a bit mixed with the use of chondroitin to reduce osteoarthritis and joint pain.
For example, one meta-analysis published in 2018 in the Journal of Orthopedic Surgery and Research looked at the effects of glucosamine, chondroitin, and the combination of both on populations with osteoarthritis.
After assessing 26 studies that met their criteria, the researchers noted that glucosamine had a slight benefit in limiting joint stiffness, while chondroitin was suggested to have benefit for limiting pain. Study authors point out that the use of the combination of both are still too limited to make actionable suggestions.
In another review published in 2018 in the World Journal of Orthopedics, authors looked at the efficacy of glucosamine and chondroitin on the treatment of osteoarthritis. Similar to the meta-analysis above, the researchers point out that high-quality studies with the use of these supplements are somewhat scarce.
They note that some of the studies performed with these supplements are limited by their populations used (some use animals), biased research (company-backed), and the quality of the supplements. While they point out that the benefit of glucosamine and chondroitin is unclear, their use is generally safe, and they do generally show some benefit when compared to a placebo group.
The final supplement we’ll discuss for decreasing joint pain is probably the most commonly known, and that is calcium.
Calcium is used for multiple processes within the body, and most understand calcium as being essential for strong bones – after all, over 90% of the body’s calcium can be found in the bones and teeth. However, calcium can also play a role with the joints. That role may be small, but it’s nonetheless an important one.
A study published in 2014 in the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research suggested that calcium gluconate was potentially a viable supplement for serving as a protective agent from osteoarthritis following ACL transection and partial medial meniscectomy.
Despite showing promise as a protective agent, it’s worth noting that this study was performed on rats, so the effect might be different in humans, and it was following a specific surgery.
When it comes to calcium supplementation, if you’re prone to being deficient, then it’s likely a good idea to look at potential options to ensure you’re getting enough for more than just joint support.
Before adding any new supplement to your daily routine, it’s always a good idea to first consult your physician to ensure that there are no contraindications with other medicines you’re taking or conditions you may have.
- Thomas, S., Browne, H., Mobasheri, A., & Rayman, M. (2018). What is the evidence for a role for diet and nutrition in osteoarthritis?. Rheumatology, 57(suppl_4), iv61-iv74. doi:10.1093/rheumatology/key011
- Ogata, T., Ideno, Y., Akai, M., Seichi, A., Hagino, H., & Iwaya, T. et al. (2018). Effects of glucosamine in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Rheumatology, 37(9), 2479-2487. doi:10.1007/s10067-018-4106-2
- Zhu, X., Sang, L., Wu, D., Rong, J., & Jiang, L. (2018). Effectiveness and safety of glucosamine and chondroitin for the treatment of osteoarthritis: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal Of Orthopaedic Surgery And Research, 13(1). doi:10.1186/s13018-018-0871-5
- Vasiliadis, H., & Tsikopoulos, K. (2017). Glucosamine and chondroitin for the treatment of osteoarthritis. World Journal Of Orthopedics, 8(1), 1. doi:10.5312/wjo.v8.i1.1