It may surprise you to learn that several over-the-counter, natural supplements can safely relieve your knee pain as effectively as prescription anti-inflammatory medication. What’s more, the two best supplements for treating knee pain are also among the most affordable.
- Glucosamine Glucosamine, one of the most effective supplements you can take to relieve knee pain, is also very affordable ($15-20 for a three-month supply) and widely available in drugstores and online without a prescription. Produced naturally by the human body and found in and around cartilage cells, glucosamine is believed to be one of the building blocks of cartilage. Glucosamine supplements, made from shellfish, not only maintain joint and knee health but also help repair and rebuild damaged cartilage. It may take up to two months to notice an improvement, but clinical trials indicate that glucosamine supplements may be as effective as prescription anti-inflammatory medications at relieving knee pain — while producing fewer unpleasant side effects. Glucosamine should not be taken by people allergic to shellfish. And, since glucosamine may affect glucose tolerance, diabetics who take it should carefully monitor their blood sugar. Possible side effects include constipation, diarrhea, nausea, indigestion, heartburn, and flatulence.
- Chondroitin: Chondroitin, a supplement often taken in conjunction with glucosamine, is believed to promote water retention and elasticity in cartilage and to inhibit the enzymes involved in cartilage breakdown. It promotes the healing of the worn articular cartilage in joints, thereby easing the pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis. In August of 2004, in an Internet poll conducted by runnersworld.com, 94.5 percent of respondents reported either “somewhat improved” or “greatly improved” knee pain symptoms after taking glucosamine and/or chondroitin. Less than one percent reported that “things got worse” with the supplements. In a meta-analysis of studies done from 1980 to 2002 and published in the July 14,2003 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, “Results demonstrated a highly significant efficacy of glucosamine on all outcomes, — while chondroitin was found [merely] “effective” on several outcome measures. Orthopedic surgeon Robert Erickson agrees that glucosamine is more effective than chondrioitin. Of the two, chondroitin can also more expensive ($15-20 for a two-month supply). So why use chondroitin? Most commercial chondroitin supplements are made from cow or shark cartilage, so it is a good option for people who are allergic to shellfish and therefore unable to tolerate glucosamine. Be aware, however, that chondroitin may not be appropriate for patients on blood thinners. It may also cause minor stomach pain.
- SAMe (S-Adenosylmethionine): Like glucosamine and chondroitin, SAMe supplements can be as effective as anti-inflammatory medication at relieving knee pain. However, SAMe takes longer to work and is considerably more expensive ($24 for a one-month supply). It may cause mild upset stomach.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish oil, flaxseed oil, and cod liver oil, have anti-inflammatory properties. A study at Cardiff University in Wales showed that regular use over a three-month period significantly reduced the levels of enzymes that cause cartilage to break down. Expect to pay $10 for a one-month supply.
- Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): MSM helps build cartilage and strengthen connective tissue. Studies have not yet firmly established its effect on knee pain, but researchers believe it is likely to reduce the pain and inflammation of knee osteoarthritis. About $10 for a two-month supply.
- Calcium: Every cell in your body needs calcium and if you don’t consume enough, your body will extract it from your bones to keep the amount in your bloodstream constant. A calcium supplement won’t hurt and it may strengthen your knees. About $16 for a three-month supply. Of the six supplements on this list, glucosamine has been shown to be the most effective at relieving knee pain. However, you may wish to consider supplements that combine glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM in a single convenient and affordable formula. Just remember to purchase any supplement from a reputable manufacturer and discuss all supplements you take with your doctor to avoid possible interactions with prescription medications or adverse effects on existing medical conditions.