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Do any supplements for osteoarthritis really work?

Many doctors recommend alternative treatments for osteoarthritis, including supplements. In fact, approximately 30 percent of Americans diagnosed with osteoarthritis have tried a supplement at least once [source: Gregory et al.]. The two most popular supplements for osteoarthritis are glucosamine and chondroitin. The overall research findings about the effectiveness of glucosamine and chondroitin for treating osteoarthritis symptoms are mixed and preliminary [source: NIAMS]. Glucosamine may help reduce pain associated with osteoarthritis, and it may help slow joint deterioration due to osteoarthritis [source: Gregory et al.]. There is also some research support for the effectiveness of chondroitin for treating osteoarthritis symptoms. Chondroitin, however, is not more effective than glucosamine [source: Gregory et al.]. The Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial found that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin only benefited people with moderate to severe osteoarthritis symptoms [source: NIAMS].

Another supplement, called S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), may also help reduce osteoarthritis symptoms, such as joint pain and swelling. There are, however, concerns regarding the high cost of this supplement and the overall quality of the supplement [source: Gregory et al.]. Another fairly common supplement is methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), which claims to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Preliminary research suggests that MSM reduces joint pain and swelling related to osteoarthritis [source: Gregory et al.]. Finally, some researchers claim that harpagophytum procumbens (devil's claw) also has anti-inflammatory properties [source: Gregory et al.].

In general, supplements for osteoarthritis cause few side effects. In some cases, supplements are better tolerated than over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen [source: Gregory et al.]. The only exception is devil's claw, which can cause skin irritation, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Although the benefits of most supplements for osteoarthritis are supported in research, the overall conclusions are preliminary at best. Therefore, the verdict of whether supplements actually work for treating osteoarthritis is still largely undecided.

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