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About one-third of US adults have reported having joint pain within the past month. Topping the charts is knee pain, followed by shoulder and hip discomfort. But wrists, hands, and elbows are often affected. The most common cause in adults over 50 is osteoarthritis, which is a wearing down of the shock-absorbing cartilage that separates the joints, but injury or illness can also cause joint pain. 

The second form of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that according to the Arthritis Foundation, affects about 1.5 million Americans. Over time, rheumatoid arthritis can deform joints as their inner lining is attacked by the body’s immune system. To learn more, here is my blog Arthritis: Is it Osteo or Rheumatoid?

Joint pain can also be caused by:

  • Bursitis– inflammation of the cushioning pads around joints
  • Lupus– an autoimmune disease that causes swelling of the joints among many other symptoms
  • Gout – a type of arthritis that affects the big toe causing pain, swelling, and redness 
  • Infectious diseases and viruses– such as mumps, influenza, and hepatitis can bring body aches  
  • Tendinitis– inflammation of a tendon
  • Overuse injury – repetitive use injuries like carpel tunnel 
  • Fibromyalgia– a chronic condition with many components, often including joint pain

Another surprising cause of joint pain in women over 50 is menopause! That’s right, as estrogen levels decline, so does the amount of collagen in our muscles and the cartilage in our joints. 

Will Glucosamine and Chondroitin Help?

Nutritional supplements glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are popular treatments for osteoarthritis. They are naturally occurring substances that are already in our cartilage and connective tissues. Tests have shown that glucosamine is well absorbed and can be detected in cartilage hours after it is taken.  

A lot like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, (like ibuprofen or Advil) glucosamine sulfate acts as an anti-inflammatory. The data from laboratory testing and studies is limited and sometimes conflicting. In some there is an indication that it does inhibit the breakdown of cartilage, but claims that it can rebuild or repair cartilage are unproven. Chondroitin sulfate has not received as much study but it does appear to serve as an effective anti-inflammatory and pain reducer. Like glucosamine sulfate, there is hope that chondroitin might slow cartilage breakdown and even stimulate new growth.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Worth a Try?

I’ve seen that some of my patients really benefit from these supplements and others don’t. 

As supplements are not subject to the same regulations required for prescription and non-prescription drugs, there have not been good studies on pain relief with these products. We do know that systemic inflammation is bad for your whole body, not just your joints, so the fact that they fight inflammation is good. However, there are a few warnings:

  • Glucosamine has been linked to increased glaucoma risk 
  • Chondroitin may act as a blood thinner
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin reported more abdominal pain and diarrhea when compared with those who took a placebo pill
  • Not covered by insurance providers, including them into your daily regimen will be an additional expense 

These supplements appear safe for most people but you should discuss using them with your healthcare provider or your pharmacist. 

Is Fish Oil Good for Joints?

Omega-3 fats are a type of good fat that can be taken as fish oil supplements. Here are some doses suggested by Arthritis Australia:

For rheumatoid arthritis, 2.7 grams of omega-3 (EPA plus DHA) daily. This dose usually requires approximately either:

  • 9 to 14 standard 1000mg fish oil capsules or five to seven capsules of a fish oil concentrate per day
  • 15mL of bottled fish oil or five to seven mL of concentrated bottled fish oil per day

For osteoarthritis, fish oil supplements at a lower dose (providing 0.45 grams of omega-3) may be useful. A recent study showed that there was no advantage in using high-dose fish oil for osteoarthritis in the knee. 

Good Nutrition, The Best Medicine

A healthy balanced diet that will help your joints and heart include:

  • Oily fish, such as tuna, salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel
  • Flaxseed (linseed) and canola oil (however these oils are not as active against inflammation as fish oils)
  • Walnuts
  • Foods fortified with omega-3, such as margarines and eggs
  • A variety of fruits and vegetables; especially broccoli, blueberries, avocado, peppers, and mushrooms as they fight inflammation

A healthy diet will also help maintain optimal weight. Extra pounds put pressure and strain on our joints, especially the knees and hips.

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