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6 Things You Should Know About Dietary Supplements for Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis—affecting 27 million Americans—and is an increasing problem among older adults. Treatments for osteoarthritis address the symptoms, such as pain, swelling, and reduced function in the joints. Nonmedicinal approaches involve lifestyle changes such as exercise, weight control, and rest. Conventional medicinal treatments for OA include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), acetaminophen (a class of pain reliever), and injections of corticosteroids (anti-inflammatory hormones).

Many people with OA report trying various dietary supplements, including glucosamine and chondroitin, alone or in combination, in an effort to relieve pain and improve function. However, there is no convincing evidence that any dietary supplement helps with OA symptoms or the course of the underlying disease. Here are 6 things you should know about dietary supplements for osteoarthritis:

  1. The majority of research has found little effect of glucosamine or chondroitin on symptoms or joint damage associated with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. Studies have found that glucosamine and chondroitin supplements may interact with the anticoagulant (blood-thinning) drug warfarin (Coumadin). But overall, studies have not shown any other serious side effects.

  2. Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO) and Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) are two chemically related dietary supplements that have been used for arthritic conditions; however, evidence does not suggest that DMSO and MSM are helpful for osteoarthritis symptoms. Although there are limited safety data available, some side effects from topical DMSO have been reported, including upset stomach, skin irritation, and garlic taste, breath, and body odor. Only minor side effects are associated with MSM in humans including allergy, upset stomach, and skin rashes.

  3. S-Adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe) is a molecule that is naturally produced in the body and is often taken as a dietary supplement; however, there is not enough evidence to support the use of SAMe for osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. SAMe is generally considered safe, but common side effects include gastrointestinal problems, dry mouth, headache, sweating, dizziness, and nervousness.

  4. There is preliminary evidence that avocado/soybean unsaponifiables (ASU), supplements made from avocado oil and soybean oil extracts, may have modest beneficial effects on symptoms of osteoarthritis. Safety information has not been sufficiently available.

  5. Although some results suggest that a few herbs may be beneficial for OA symptoms, the overall evidence is weak, and conclusions among reviews of the literature provide conflicting interpretations. In general, herbs have not been studied or prepared in a consistent way. There is also a general lack of safety data available.

  6. If you take, or are considering taking, dietary supplements for osteoarthritis, tell your health care providers. They can do a better job caring for you if they know what dietary supplements you use.