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Stiff joints aren’t fun, but they are something many of us will experience at some point or another. However, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest vitamins for bones and joints will help.
Knowing what vitamins are good for joints and bones and combining them with a healthy lifestyle will help you tackle both the causes and effects of joint pain – meaning you can alleviate the symptoms and even help repair your joints.
It begins with those grunts when you stand up: once you’re past your twenties, bending becomes more noticeable. Then there’s joint pain. Osteoarthritis is common in people aged over 30, as wear-and-tear leads to pain in weight-bearing joints – but there are many reasons why you might be achy. This is why many people look to vitamins for joints to keep moving freely.
But what are the best vitamins for joints, and how do they help? Which supplements are anti-inflammatory, which vitamins lubricate joints, and what vitamins should you take for aching joints? Here are the 6 most recommended vitamins for bones and joints.
1. Fish Oil
Fish oil supplements are packed full of omega-3 fatty acids. These are found in the membranes of every cell in your body. Omega-3s inhibit the inflammatory mediators responsible for a chemical chain reaction that releases lysosomal enzymes and cytokines and activates nuclear factor-kappa B (NFκB), which are agents that signal an immune response and attack cells, leading to bone resorption. Omega-3s also neutralise free radicals, which are unstable molecules missing an electron that cause oxidative stress, and are responsible for painful arthritis inflammation.
This is good news for joints on two counts: for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease that deteriorates joints), it inhibits the damaging autoimmune response. For the rest of us, Omega-3s help alleviate the inflammation that leads to increased joint pain.
In a study measuring effects of high-dose fish oil on rheumatoid arthritis patients, subjects experienced significant decreases in tender joints. In another study on patients experiencing non-surgical neck or back pain, many found their overall condition improved.
Glucosamine is a naturally occurring sugar found in the fluid around and the cartilage that cushions your joints. In fact, Glucosamine sulfate forms the primary building block for the large molecules in cartilage that give it its buffering qualities. Unfortunately, however, our glucosamine levels drop as we age.
During osteoarthritis, cartilage in your joints breaks down which increases friction, pain and stiffness. However, glucosamine supplements have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects as well as protective properties on cartilage, which suggests that it not only inhibits this breakdown of joint cartilage, but may help repair it.
Glucosamine sulphate supplements can be traced to cartilage as soon as four hours after consumption, and most research indicates it is an effective vitamin for joints affected by osteoarthritis – especially knee pain. An alternative form, Glucosamine hydrochloride, is even more easily absorbed into the body (thus requires smaller doses), and is considered to be just as effective, though there are fewer completed studies to review.
Chondroitin is just as important to natural joint health as glucosamine, and you’ll often find the two paired together in scientific research. This is because both are structural components of cartilage, so chondroitin supplements work under the same logic; namely that they help your body maintain the cartilage needed for healthy joints.
Chondroitin is a much larger chemical than glucosamine. Chondroitin sulfate helps cartilage retain water, which helps reinforce the structure of the joint cavity and therefore its ease of movement. It’s been studied less extensively than glucosamine, but research nevertheless suggests chondroitin may slow cartilage breakdown and even spur regrowth, thus reversing the effects of arthritis.
That’s not all. chondroitin sulfate has also been shown to possess anti-inflammatory effects and antioxidant properties. This helps to explain why most clinical trials have shown it to be beneficial for joints, with patients experiencing improved knee joints, reduced swelling and less overall pain.
4. Vitamin D
While it’s widely known that Vitamin D is important to bone health, it’s important to note that it also plays a key role in maintaining healthy joints. Your body makes it in response to sunlight, but most of us don’t get enough of this throughout the year, so Vitamin D supplements are a great solution.
Vitamin D helps balance the body’s absorption of calcium. This is what helps strengthen bones – but the fluid in your joints and the cartilage lining them also contain calcium. In fact, calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate arthritis is a joint disease that’s characterised by calcium building up and crystallizing in the joints, which creates friction and leads to joint swelling and pain. Vitamin D’s vital role in calcium homeostasis helps prevent this from happening.
Vitamin D deficiency has also been associated with autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have shown people with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to suffer from joint pain. Conversely, arthritic patients given Vitamin D supplements in clinical trials experienced reduced spinal deterioration while further studies suggest it may help reduce rheumatoid arthritis.
5. Vitamin C
If the above doesn’t convince you to crack out the multivitamins, perhaps this will: Vitamin C is also a fantastic vitamin for joints and bones.
Like omega-3, Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, meaning it fights the molecules that could trigger inflammation in your joints. It’s integral to your body’s immune response and may therefore help control flares caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Vitamin C is also needed by the body to synthesise collagen – which is the main protein in your joint tissues.
In one study, increased Vitamin C was associated with reduced levels of inflammatory markers in arthritic patients. In another, Vitamin C was found to induce a number of the body’s chemical reactions that protect cartilage against damage. For those with knee pain, taking Vitamin C reduced the damage to cartilage, and for those with autoimmune disease, it halted disease progression.
In fact, studies showed Vitamin C also reduced joint pain – so it’s safe to say that whatever’s causing your stiff joints, Vitamin C could help.
Curcumin (or diferuloylmethane) is a natural chemical compound found in turmeric, which is a plant in the ginger family and a well-known ingredient in Asian cuisine.
Like omega-3, curcumin blocks inflammatory cytokines and enzymes. Studies also found it prevented local activation of NFκB and the subsequent expression of genes mediating joint inflammation and destruction. Curcumin is also an antioxidant, so helps neutralise free radicals, and is thought to inhibit the body’s response to tumor necrosis factor, which causes inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and other arthritic conditions.
Research into curcumin’s benefits is sparse but encouraging: in one study, 94% of patients with knee osteoarthritis taking curcumin reported improvement, with fewer side effects than those taking pain killers. They also lost an average of 2% of their body weight in four weeks. Further studies found it provided relief for people with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other arthritic conditions.
While eating more curries sounds like a tastier alternative to fish oil supplements, however, it’s worth noting that curcumin accounts for only 5% of turmeric – so you’ll need curcumin joint supplements to get enough to feel its anti-arthritic benefits.
Key Takeaways: Vitamins for Strong Joints
When considering what vitamins are good for joints and bones, it’s important to remember that they work best in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle. Tendons, joints and cartilage do not have direct blood vessels, so keeping active is an important step to diffuse helpful nutrients into your joints in order to do their work.
With aging most of us will experience stiff joints in one form or another, but with the appropriate vitamins and supplements, it’s possible to tackle both the causes and effects of joint pain.