Should I take supplements for my hip and knee osteoarthritis? Which ones?

Grant Cooper Health Guide
  • First, understand that there is no "magic supplement" that will cure osteoarthritis.  In this post, we'll talk about the real difference between supplements and arthritis medication, how to select a supplement to buy and about a few common osteoarthritis supplements, including glucosamine and chondroitin. Also, note that the most effective, lasting treatment for the pain associated with osteoarthritis is stretching and strengthening the surrounding muscles in the right way. 


    What Are Supplements?

    People have been using plants for medicinal purposes since the beginning of civilization.   Of every 10,000 compounds sampled, perhaps one will make it to market.  And that process of bringing a new drug to market takes 10 to15 years and can cost more than $1 billion dollars.  That's a lot of money!  Considering the abundance of potential natural therapeutic agents out there in the world, it shouldn't be surprising that some of them have not yet been made into "drugs."  Instead, they may appear on the market as supplements. 

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    In 1994, the U.S. Congress passed a law that defined nutritional supplements and identified them as a product intended for consumption in tablet, capsule, powder, soft gel, gel cap, or liquid form, and containing vitamins, minerals, herbs, other botanicals, amino acids, or any combination thereof.  Because of this designation, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates supplements as foods, not drugs.  Supplements therefore are not subject to the same rigorous standards and regulations as drugs.  As a result, it is a lot easier to bring a supplement to market than a drug.  The downside to all this lack of regulation is that you are never 100% sure of what you are getting with a supplement.


    Things To Think About When Considering Supplements

    If you are going to purchase a supplement, only buy from a reputable company.  A "USP Dietary Supplement Verified" seal ensures that some basic manufacturing standards have been met.  Also, check out groups like and NSF International that evaluate supplements and publish their results. 

    A last word of caution before discussing specific supplements: Always talk with your doctor before starting any supplement.  Certain supplements may have negative effects on your health and they may interact with medications you are taking.

    If you are pregnant, thinking of becoming pregnant, nursing, or if you are under the age of 18, do not take the supplements listed in this post.

    Ask your doctor to monitor you with regular blood, kidney and liver function tests while you are taking supplements.


    Popular Supplements for Osteoarthritis Pain Relief

    Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have received a lot of attention for their potential therapeutic role in osteoarthritis.  Many studies published in reputable medical journals have supported their usage, but more recent studies have questioned whether the supplements work.  I have personally had enough positive experiences with patients taking glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to continue recommending the supplements to them. I can't say if you should take these supplements. You and your doctor will have to decide if they would be worth trying for you.


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    The recommended dosage for glucosamine is 1,500 mg daily.  The recommend dosage for chondroitin sulfate is 800-1,200 mg daily.   These dosages can be taken once per day or divided into two or three dosages over the course of the day.  Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are generally well tolerated.  It may take up to 3 months to notice any changees or benefits from taking these supplements.  Common side effects include mild stomach upset.  Talk to your doctor about whether these supplements might be right for you.


    Other supplements that are worth reading more about and discussing with your doctor include avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASU), methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), cherry supplements, and fish oil or other omega-3 fatty acid supplements. 

    Supplements don't replace exercise and an anti-inflammatory diet, but they can be a productive adjunct.  Of course, if you are considering taking supplements, remember to buy only from reputable companies and to discuss the pros and cons of these supplements with your doctor before trying them.


    For True Relief, You'll Need to Add Exercise

    The most effective, lasting treatment for the pain associated with osteoarthritis is stretching and strengthening the surrounding muscles in the right way.  If you want to get better and stay pain-free and active, it's going to require at least a little work.  Note that I said "a little."  It doesn't take hours per day of exercises to stretch and strengthen the right muscles.  A good home exercise program should only take about 20 minutes. Of course, the home exercise program should be part of a broader exercise regimen that incorporates aerobic conditioning-but we'll discuss exercise in another blog.

Published On: April 28, 2008