Staying youthful is, in many ways, dependent on joint and bone health.
If your joints are moving as they should, your movement is free.
Restricted joint movement, on the other hand, appears as aging – and weakness.
It also causes pain and inflammation and can interfere with how you feel about everything going on in your life. Many people with joint pain seem to be crabbier and on a shorter fuse – and it’s understandable because of the pain they are in.
Joint pain may also be associated with different forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis – the type that results from injuries – or rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder.
When your bones are strong and in alignment, your posture is good. You will appear to be younger than someone who is stooped or someone with a forward head position.
When bones are weakened, such as from low bone density or osteoporosis, small traumas come as big shocks to the body, bringing bone fractures. One classic example is the act of opening a window, which can fracture a vertebra.
Every part of your body may be strengthened with good nutrition, and that includes your joints and bones. It takes time, but when you monitor your progress, you’ll see milestones of achievements.
Supplements can be incorporated into good nutrition, and they may come with certain benefits, as we’ll see ahead. Here’s a quick visual rundown of the types we will discuss in this article.
10 Helpful Joint & Bone Supplements
Next, I’ll go over a list of the ten natural supplements that have research behind them in helping you improve and/or maintain strong bones and joints over time.
Green tea is the unprocessed leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Its leaves are steamed, rolled and dried.
All of Asia started drinking green tea soon after the time when a Chinese emperor was outside relaxing on the royal grounds next to a cup of boiling water sitting on a small table.
A leaf blew off the tea plant and into his cup. The tea leaf steeped, delivering its benefits over the next five minutes. The emperor then drank this first cup of tea and loved how he felt from the beverage. Green tea was birthed at this moment in time.
Green tea offers distinct benefits to bone and joint tissues.
How does green tea help your joints & bones?
It’s the catechins in the tea plant that is responsible for the most positive effects on bone and joint health.
In one Brazilian study, scientists tested green tea extract on the oxidative processes occurring in the liver and brain of rats with arthritis. They said this simulated humans with rheumatoid arthritis.
For 23 days, the rats received the green tea extract. The tea decreased the protein and lipid damage in the liver, brain, and plasma. It decreased the free radicals in the tissues and increased antioxidant levels in the blood. These antioxidant levels are usually low in those who have arthritis.
The tea extract normalized the antioxidants in the blood. In the liver, the green tea also normalized the metabolic functions that are substantially modified by arthritis. (1)
For example, it normalizes the metabolic functions of the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase.
Well, that is a study with rats, you may say. What about humans?
You would be correct. It is a rat study and you are not a rat. But, there have been studies of green tea and humans.
In one Saudi Arabian study at King Saud University, 120 patients who had had rheumatoid arthritis for at least 10 years were treated with a common medication called infliximab, green tea or an exercise program for six months.
Infliximab brings terror to the hearts of those who are natural healing minded because of its side effects on the body.
The patients who were given green tea alone or green tea plus medication or green tea plus exercise showed significant improvement in their joint functioning as well as their inflammatory and bone resorption markers.
The scientists concluded that both exercise and green tea were beneficial as nondrug modulators for rheumatoid arthritis (2).
General health benefits of Green Tea
You don’t have to have an active bone or joint disease to benefit from green tea.
The medicinal constituents inhibit TNF-alpha gene expression. TNF-alpha is a central mediator in chronic inflammatory diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
The Japanese researchers ran an animal study and found that green tea helps prevent cardiovascular disease and has preventive effects on chronic inflammatory diseases and lifestyle-related diseases, including cancer. It promotes a long life (3).
One of the most active compounds responsible for positive effects on health in green tea is called epigallocatechin-3-gallate or EGCG for short (4).
Chinese research shows it to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-collagenase and anti-fibrosis effects as well as bone regeneration potential (4).
All these activities working singly or in concert will help make bones and joints feel better.
For the longest time, as a dietitian, nutritionist and then a chiropractic physician, I never could understand why the ‘establishment’ was against those who wanted to take dietary supplements like multivitamins to better their health.
I had the first-hand experience with how bad nutrition interfered with good health when I grew up with malnutrition. I was one of several children in a large family where food was sparse and felt remarkably better when taking them, as did my siblings.
A few decades later during my master’s training in nutrition, it seemed astounding that a fellow grad student paving the way for multivitamin research to show a benefit on health was ostracized by professors. He only received his degree out of divine grace.
Fast forward a few more decades and there is plentiful research showing that a multivitamin/multimineral supplement can go a far way in providing a higher level of bone and joint health than what one has right now (5).
On the other hand, there are still reviews of the literature that claim that these supplements aren’t helpful for joint and bone health.
You’ll find out why.
Here’s the first example: “Calcium may prevent bone mineral density loss in postmenopausal women, and may reduce vertebral fractures but not non-vertebral fractures. The evidence suggests dose-dependent benefits of vitamin D with/without calcium for retaining bone mineral density and preventing hip fracture, non-vertebral fractures, and falls.“
The researchers go on to say, “We found no consistent pattern of increased adverse effects of multivitamin/mineral supplement except for skin yellowing by beta-carotene” (6).
What these scientific discourse means is:
- Calcium helps maintain bone density.
- Calcium supplementation may prevent a post-menopausal woman from having vertebral fractures, but not fractures of other bones.
- If vitamin D is added to calcium, it helps bones keep their density and prevents hip fractures.
- Vitamin D also prevents falls from happening and other bone fractures.
- The witch hunt still continues from decades ago – there MUST be something wrong with taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement!
The biggest point here is that a lot of researchers didn’t take Nutrition 101, 201, 301 and 401 where they would have learned that calcium is only one little mineral and it isn’t a miracle worker by itself.
It NEEDS all the other vitamins and minerals in order to get the best optimum net effect on bone and joint.
You can test millions of people for calcium and bone or joint health and you’ll always get mixed results.
That’s simply because if you don’t provide all the nutrients at the same time, then you could still be missing out on a key nutrient to get these tissues healthy; and that will skew your results.
Other times, researchers even forget that maybe it’s important to see where a person’s nutrient levels are before randomly giving them a supplement to take.
The body won’t ever become superhuman simply because you provide extra vitamin(s) and/or mineral(s).
However, if your levels are low of a nutrient and you then start consuming that nutrient – or better yet a multivitamin-mineral, you will generally notice a change.
That’s because there were deficiency symptoms you were experiencing from the low levels. When the nutrient is provided, then the deficiency goes away.
Attitudes Changing About Multivitamins and Minerals
Luckily for all of us, the attitudes are changing about multivitamins and minerals.
Seventy-three percent of orthopedists reported in a 2008 survey of healthcare professionals that they at least occasionally use dietary supplements. It’s a multivitamin they most often use,
Over 25% in each specialty surveyed (300 dermatologists, 300 orthopedists, and 300 cardiologists) said they use omega-3 fats and over 20% use botanical supplements (7).
A regular dietary supplement was taken daily by 50% of all orthopedists. And here’s the best part of all – 91% of orthopedists reported recommending dietary supplements to their patients for the purpose of bone and joint health.
How does a multivitamin help your joints & bones?
Here are some additional studies that show distinct benefits on bone and joint health from multivitamins.
A Polish study of athletes playing American football used a survey to see what dietary supplements they were taking for better energy levels, muscle mass and strength (directly connected to bone and joint health) and improved physical capacity.
The researchers surmised that the athlete wouldn’t have taken the supplement if he didn’t believe they were working for him.
They found that the athletes used multivitamin supplements significantly more often if they believed their results would be better than those who didn’t believe this (8).
Some of the other supplements used included joint support supplements, protein powders, and isotonic drinks as well as amino acid supplements and omega 3 fats.
Australian researchers went straight to a nursing home to see whether there would be benefits on nutritional status and bone quality on the residents there.
Half of the residents took a multivitamin and half didn’t for six months. Those that took the multivitamin had better bone density and 63% fewer falls than those who did not (9).
The Chinese found similar types of results in their study of 3318 patients in a nutritional intervention trial. Their multivitamin mineral tablet contained 26 different vitamins or minerals and was consumed for six years.
There was a follow-up done 16 years later. In men, the supplement reduced the bone fracture rate by 63% during the trial period and protection for the bones continued for the next 10 years. These benefits were not seen in women (10).
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of only vitamin D3 and/or multivitamin given to youth aged 16 to 24 years old with HIV that were taking a bone density destroying medication, positive results were found.
Only those taking both the vitamin D and the multivitamin-mineral together increased their bone mineral density over the four-year trial period (11).
It’s kind of difficult to fathom the idea that gut bacteria could possibly affect bone health, but new research shows that this is true.
In Boston, Massachusetts at the Division of Rheumatology, Immunology, and Allergy at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, doctors reported in the Current Osteoporosis Reports journal in August 2017 that there have been new efforts to explore the effect of probiotics on the bone (12).
Whenever the microflora of the gut is affected by antibiotics or probiotic supplementation, there’s a change in bone remodeling, bone development and growth and the mechanical strength of the bone (12)..
Whey protein is probably the most popular type of protein supplement out there. In an animal study in Korea, scientists found that six weeks of dietary whey protein supplementation was enough to prevent bone loss, improved the strength of the femur bone and decreased bone resorption even though the rats did not have ovaries (13).
This gives us a clue that whey protein can possibly help women who have hit their menopause years and are afraid of experiencing osteoporosis.
In another study – this time a human study – a whey protein supplement taken daily by women and men with normal body weight to put their protein intake at 0.8 grams/kg was tested in 208 patients.
The supplementation preserved their lean body mass without affecting their skeleton or kidneys negatively (14).
At Penn State University, scientists ran a prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study on 147 athletes offering a collagen supplement liquid drink to half of the athletes.
The other half took a placebo liquid drink with no collagen. Both consumed their drinks for 24 weeks. They tested pain, mobility and inflammation levels of the athletes to see whether a positive effect had occurred.
How collagen helped
- joint pain when walking
- joint pain when standing
- joint pain at rest
- joint pain when lifting
- joint pain when running a straight line
The researchers concluded that consuming collagen hydrolysate supports joint health and may also reduce the risk of joint deterioration (15).
In a Barcelona study, scientists there also reviewed collagen hydrolysate supplement studies. Collagen hydrolysate has small peptides with a molecular weight of fewer than 5000 Daltons. It’s made via gelatinization and then enzymatic breakdown of animal collagen.
They found more than 60 scientific studies supporting the idea that this type of collagen reduces collagen damage in the body, reduces joint pain and joint damage from osteoarthritis, increases bone density, and prevents skin aging (16).
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branched-chain amino acids include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAA supplements have been taken by athletes for at least the last decade.
Not all scientists agree that branched-chain amino acid supplements work. At the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the scientists’ reason that the branched-chain amino acids decrease muscle protein synthesis, as well as the breakdown of protein and muscle protein breakdown, exceeds synthesis (17). Thus scientifically, it’s not possible that BCAAs work.
Gym advocates and fitness trainers believe there’s a good reason for taking these supplements. Studies show that they can improve strength, which indirectly enhances bone and joint tissues.
One example is a UK group that tested 26 men, half with 4 grams daily of a leucine supplement and half without the supplement. All the men had to participate in a 12- week resistance training program.
The question was who would have the greatest strength gains – those on the supplement or those not on the supplement.
The men taking the leucine supplements were 10% stronger than those that didn’t take the supplement containing the branched-chain amino acid (18).
Curcumin is the medicinal constituent found in the turmeric Indian spice plant. The root may be purchased at grocery stores and looks similar to ginger root.
Many people are very surprised to find out that there are over 40 different studies on how curcumin was used to treat inflammatory diseases and arthritis and that some studies have even been done on osteoporosis and bone tumors.
How does curcumin help your joints & bones?
The way curcumin works is by disturbing the activity of certain enzymes such as lipoxygenase. This enzyme is related to inflammation. Curcumin also alters the expression of cytokines, receptors, and cell surface adhesion molecules.
Curcumin also contains antioxidants and anti-microbial compounds. Some of them are involved in bone remodeling, which can assist in your body creating healthier bones while healing.
Studies show that curcumin inhibits bone resorption in animal studies. The greater the dose, the greater the response. For example, 10uM curcumin given to animals for 24 hours decreased the number of bone absorptive pits by 80% (21).
Curcumin also decreased the number of osteoclast cells – the cells that break down bone – in diabetic animals (21). When you consider the fact that osteoporosis is a matter of balance between the cells that break down bone and those that build up bone, this characteristic of curcumin is important. It implies that curcumin could change the bone cell balance to be more in favor of building bone density.
Another study showed that female rats in a menopause state were able to build bone density by consuming a high dose of 15 mg curcumin per day for six months (21).
In osteoarthritis, curcumin decreases the inflammatory markers such as IL-6 and IL-8, 5-lipoxygenase and COX-2 (22). It also decreases the formation of oxygen and nitrogen free radicals that degrade the cartilage (23)
All this information points to one foundational concept: that curcumin is a good aide to bone and joint health. And since it’s a food, you can even add it to your vegetable/meat dishes for additional flavor.
The use of bone broth goes back centuries. Even in the medical literature, a 1934 report stated that the nutritional content of vegetable and bone broths is not great (24). Their advantage might be that they contain a lot of gelatin with small amounts of starch and sugar.
A more recent study (25) dispelled the myth that bone broths are high in calcium. The Chinese researchers found that the calcium content was very low, less than 5% of the daily recommended levels. Thus, it’s not the calcium in bone broth that is helping bones feel better.
Animal bones concentrate heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, and aluminum, which may be unleashed into the cooking water of bone broth. However, this was also recently dismissed as a myth by the same Chinese researchers mentioned above (25).
The source of the bones may be the key to this issue; the study collected and used femur bones from pigs and cows at a Taiwanese and Australian meat market. Here in America, if the bones are collected from commercial farmers, the toxic metal content may be more of a real problem.
The advantage of gelatin in bone disorders might be its glycine content. Collagen hydrolysate is derived from gelatin, and gelatin is high in three amino acids: glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. Scientists reported back in 1952 that rheumatoid arthritis patients had abnormal glycine metabolism (26).
Ginger has been used topically as a compress for arthritis but it may also be taken internally.
Bangladesh doctors and scientists reported recently in a medical journal that of all investigated plants, “it is scientifically palpable that Zingiber officinale has a pivotal role to lessen the unbearable pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis” (27).
The anti-inflammatory action of ginger was first proven in 1982. The scientists isolated compounds from the plant that reduced prostaglandin production in the body (27). Later studies showed leukotrienes which also increase inflammation, are lowered by ginger.
Ginger supplementation was also found to lower C-reactive protein levels, according to Chinese, Norwegian, and UK researchers who evaluated 9 studies on the topic. The dosage didn’t matter; as long as it was taken, the C-RP levels decreased (28)
MSM is a naturally occurring organosulfur compound. It originally came from dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), which is used to dissolve other compounds and bring them into the body through topical applications.
The flora in the body absorbs MSM from a supplement and then MSM penetrates membranes and permeates throughout the body. Studies show that MSM works on inflammation-busting and eliminating oxidative stress (29).
On a deeper level, MSM decreases COX-2 and indirectly the activation of mast cells. Mast cells contribute to inflammation by the release of histamine. It also has antioxidant properties, regulating the balance of free radicals and antioxidant enzymes in the body.
MSM is commonly found in supplements with other natural remedies such as boswellic acid, chondroitin sulfate, and glucosamine. Whether or not it’s alone or used with other components, studies have shown significant improvements in pain and stiffness of arthritis (29).
Tracking Your Joint & Bone Health
You can see from all this research that it’s possible to stand on the shoulders of the giants and progress ahead, improving your joint and bone health (19).
In taking your next step, go ahead and do more research if you feel a need for this. Then make a decision on what to start first.
Monitor your bones and joints first before starting by writing out your symptoms, and your joint pain during different activities as one of the researchers did in their study.
Keep a log for a week on your joint pain. Then start the supplement. Give it a month and record your results on weekends for those same parameters you selected.
Then make your decision. Were the results enough to warrant continuing on the supplement and/or adding a new one?
Keep Reading: 9 Natural Supplements that Fight Inflammation
ⓘ Any specific supplement products & brands featured on this website are not necessarily endorsed by Donna.
About the Author
Dr. Donna is a highly sought after freelance writer on the topic of alternative health. For 12 years, she was the editor of Health & Fitness Magazine in Sacramento, California, the magazine that educated thousands of readers on various topics of health, exercise/fitness, and alternative medicine. Email Donna.