Your smart guide to supplements and arthritis

“My aunt takes these pills and her arthritis is much better.” “Did you see those new natural supplements at the health food store?” “You should try this stuff to help your knees.” When you have arthritis, everyone from your family members to the checkout clerk can have an opinion on supplements (that is, herbs, vitamins and other natural products that you can swallow) that will help with stiffness or pain. Should you take a supplement to help your arthritis? The answer is: it depends. Herbal supplements can contain many compounds, and researchers don’t yet fully understand the active and inactive ingredients and the way they work together. And while the products may be natural, they are not automatically safe. “Remember to tell your health-care provider about all supplements you take, because they may have an effect on other medications,” says Oakville, Ontario registered dietitian Sandra Saville. Here’s what you need to know about some common supplements used to treat arthritis symptoms.


Ok to try? Maybe

Glucosamine and chondroitin are components that help make up cartilage, the tissue that cushions your joints. They’re produced naturally in your body but are also available in supplements. Generally speaking, chondroitin has not been found to be helpful for pain for knee or hip osteoarthritis (OA). Large studies on glucosamine and knee OA have had conflicting results—some say it helps, others say it has little or no effect.

Be aware that these supplements may interact with the anticoagulant (blood-thinning) medication Warfarin. Glucosamine may also cause side effects if you have shellfish or iodine allergies or sensitivities.

Omega-3s/fish oil

Ok to try? Yes

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, do fairly well at reducing pain, the number of swollen and painful joints and the duration of morning stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). They also provide more modest pain relief for people with OA.

Be aware Omega-3s found in fish can make blood clot more slowly, so talk about using these supplements with your health-care provider.

Avocado soybean unsaponifiables (ASU)

Ok to try? Yes

This natural vegetable extract is derived from avocados and soybeans. It may help lessen the pain and stiffness of OA in the knee and hip, reducing the need for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Be aware that if this supplement is combined with glucosamine, it can affect people with shellfish allergies.

Vitamin D

Ok to try? Yes

If you have fibromyalgia and are deficient in Vitamin D, Vitamin D supplements may reduce symptoms.

Be aware Vitamin D is fat soluble, which means it’s stored in your body. Taking a high dose means your body can hold on to the excess.


Ok to try? Yes

Turmeric is a bright yellow spice that’s often found in curry powder and its primary ingredients are called curcuminoids. Early research suggests that curcuminoids may help control knee pain from OA as well as ibuprofen does.

Be aware that high doses or long-term use of turmeric may cause gastrointestinal problems.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)

Ok to try? Maybe

MSM is an organic sulphur compound that helps form connective tissue, which is found naturally in fruits, vegetables, animals, grains and humans. Studies have not found evidence that MSM significantly reduces arthritis pain.

Be aware that side effects from MSM include upset stomach, allergies and skin rashes.

S-Adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe)

Ok to try? Maybe

SAMe is a molecule that’s naturally produced in the body and is also sold as a dietary supplement. In some studies, SAMe was as effective as NSAIDs in soothing symptoms of OA of the knee or hip, but in others it was no more helpful than a placebo.

Be aware that SAMe may interact with drugs including some antidepressants and levodopa (used for Parkinson’s disease). If you have bipolar disorder or are HIV positive, ask your health-care provider about the risks of using SAMe.