Osteoarthritis of the knee is one of the main causes of disability in the U.S. Around 55 percent of people over the age of 65 and 9,000,000 adults overall suffer from the condition, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Patients use a variety of supplements, spending $2,000,000,000 dollars in 2005 alone, but some of these supplements are more promising than others.
Arnica is a plant used since the 1500s by various world cultures due to its anti-inflammatory properties. A study at the Valens Clinic for Rheumatism in Switzerland found that arnica gel applied topically twice daily to patients with mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis (OA) had significant improvements in pain, stiffness and function within 3 to 6 weeks. It was well tolerated by patients with few side effects, except for one severe allergic reaction.
Chondroitin occurs naturally in the body, but commercial preparations often use animal cartilage usually derived from cows or sharks. The Department of Rheumatology and Institute of Physical Medicine at Zurich’s University Hospital reported that data derived from trial studies show oral chondroitin supplements have structure-modifying effects in knee OA patients and also provide some improvement in pain and function, equivalent to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. But unlike ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), the chondroitin supplements don’t cause stomach irritation or aggravate ulcers.
Glucosamine is another naturally-occurring substance in the body, but commercial forms are derived from the shells of crabs and lobsters (which is why they’re not recommended for people with shellfish allergies). A study reported in the “Journal of European Radiology” in 2009 showed that glucosamine decreased pain and improved function and flexibility in patients with cartilage degeneration of the patella in the knee. Chondroitin and glucosamine are the two most-often used supplements for osteoarthritis and are often combined in over-the-counter preparations.
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is an organic sulfur compound found in various foods. A clinical trial performed at the Southwest College Research Institute in Tempe, Arizona demonstrated that patients given MSM supplements for 12 weeks had significant decreases in pain, physical impairment, and in performing activities of daily living when compared to a placebo.
SAM or SAMe
S-Adenosylmethionine, also known as SAM or SAMe, has been shown to be as effective as other anti-inflammatory medications in treating knee arthritis. Patients given a daily oral dose of 1,200 did as well as those receiving a similar dose of ibuprofen for 4 weeks, reporting improvement in morning stiffness, pain at rest, pain on motion, crepitus, swelling and limitation of motion, as reported in a 1987 issue of the “American Journal of Medicine.” SAMe tends to be more expensive than other supplements, however, and it is one reason it’s not used as widely.