If you’re like people on the internet, when you have joint pain, your body turns into an x-ray with neon blots:
Or, maybe you spend lots of time rubbing a seemingly pained knee:
Every article about joint health uses those same images! No one is original. Here’s our stock photo for discussing joint health:
That was the first marijuana pun. There will be more.
Joint Biology Basics
Joints are complicated intersections of bones in our body that bend and flex so we can move, stand, and lift in a manner beneficial to our corporate overlords. Some of us outside of Woodstock are less familiar with what a joint looks like.
Here’s an example of a joint on a dog:
This is too easy.
Ok let’s get serious for 4-5 sentences. This is an example of a human joint:
The main components are as follows:
- The bones (of course).
- Cartilage – a thin layer of connective tissue that acts like rubber padding at the ends of bones, made up of collagen.
- Synovial fluid – a lubrication found in certain joints that helps reduce the friction of cartilage rubbing against each other.
- Ligaments, tendons, etc. Ligaments connect bones to bones. Tendons connect muscles to bones. (Fasciae connects muscles to muscles – in case you were going to ask!)
There are many reasons joints break down. Usually, it’s from being passed to the right instead of the left.
Here are some of the more common reasons human joints go bad:
- Arthritis – inflammation due to many reasons, including autoimmune disease or infection
- Gout – a build up of uric acid
- Physical trauma – over use and poor joint care can lead to degradation of the joint.
Symptoms of Poor Joint Health
Over time, slight aches and pains can lead to a very debilitating disease. In the US, arthritis is the most common cause of disability, with over 20 million people having severe limitations on physical ability. It starts out as a nuisance but grows to be a serious problem. Besides the silliness I’m throwing around in this article, joint health should be taken seriously. Here are some common symptoms:
- Aches and pain – in the joint itself and surrounding muscle
- Swelling – from inflammatory process
- Stiffness – usually worse in the morning or after use
- Difficulty moving – less flexibility
- Weakness from reduced use
Otherwise healthy people can suffer and be debilitated from joint pain. You can make all the best dietary decisions in the world. You are physically fit and active, which is great! As we age, however, going hard on our joints will come back to haunt us. The worst part is joint issues tend to be progressive: more joint pain leads to less flexibility and stiffness, which leads to minimizing the use of the joint, which leads to further degradation of the joint health. This, of course, is the opposite of our intention with exercise.
Our goal then is to care for our joints BEFORE it becomes a problem. If we have joint pain, we need to address it now by optimizing joint health. If necessary, we need to adapt our activity to best support continued joint health without further damaging our joints. Life’s a marathon, and that can be bad for your knees.
Caring for Our Joints
I’m trying REALLY hard not to make a joke every time I say the word joint. I’m a professional! (At least I’m licensed as such.)
We’ve “invented” the Wellness Pyramid. Here it is in all of its glory:
Our Woodstock Vitamins philosophy states we must first tend to lifestyle modifications BEFORE we reach for supplements or medical treatments. Doing so will address any variables our actions – such as our food choices or joint usage – may cause.
Things You Can Do To Have Healthy Joints
Here’s a list of things that should be done to improve the health of your joint (besides tight rolling with ample quantities):
- Lose weight
- Be active
- Build strong bones
- Aerobic activity that is easy on joints, like swimming or using the elliptical
- Warm up and stretch before physical exertion
- Improve your range of motion – if you don’t use it, you lose it. This can contribute to weaker joints.
- Wear great shoes. Shoes are the most important item of clothing we can buy. Don’t skimp out for fashion!
- Do yoga – it’s great stretching and weight bearing, so it strengthens joints without dramatic force
- Use braces if you start to get some joint damage – wrist, knee, or elbow braces can help support a joint that’s been a bit abused.
Things You Shouldn’t Do To Have Healthy Joints
- High impact sports – running, kickboxing
- Standing OR sitting all day – mix it up!
- Working out without expertise/advice – get a trainer so you don’t hurt yourself.
- Wear high heels. This goes double for guys – you just aren’t trained to wear them, plus they put lots of pressure on our ankle, knees, and toes.
- Repetitive motion – things like constant computer work can contribute to joint issues, especially if your monitor or keyboard isn’t adjusted for proper ergonomics.
- Lifting heavy loads improperly – “Lift with your back in a fast, jerking motion” should not be how you handle large items.
Nutritional Do’s and Don’ts of Joint Health
Joint-healthy diets are tricky, as joints can increase your appetite and increase your sugar cravings. Nyuk Nyuk.
The overall goal of a joint-healthy diet is to first and foremost be a healthy body weight. Gravity is a force to be reckoned with, and the downward pressure on our joints will hasten their degradation. Otherwise, it’s all about minimizing the amount of inflammatory foods you consume, increasing the amount of foods rich in anti-inflammatory compounds such as omega-3s and antioxidants, and having a bone-healthy diet. Strong bones, reduced inflammation, at a healthy body weight will help joints stay strong, lubricated, and flexible.
Maintaining A Healthy Body Weight
- Read our articles about nutrition – Eating to Fuel Your Fire and Calories In, Calories Out to get the first basic steps towards a healthy diet.
- Consider scheduling a consult to implement a nutritional plan today!
- Reduce the amount of simple sugars in your diet
- Avoid processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and packaged, pre-made foods
- Eat omega-3 rich foods such as fatty fish
- Avoid omega-6 rich foods as we get PLENTY of this already, and the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 being out of whack can create a pro-inflammatory state
- Eat lots of dark, leafy greens and colorful foods such as berries, carrots, pineapples, and more.
- Avoid caffeine and reduce your alcohol consumption
Eat A Bone-Healthy Diet
- Increase dietary calcium intake. Read our article Calcium Doesn’t Work to get the full scoop on calcium
- The dark, leafy greens are not only rich in antioxidants but bone supporting nutrients like Vitamin K, magnesium, and phosphorus.
- Look to get some sun exposure to boost those Vitamin D levels naturally
Supplements for Joint Health
There are a multitude of products on the market promising to solve all your joint health-related issues in no time flat. There are a few secrets we’d like to let you in on, though, that will help shape your perspective of what’s real and what’s not.
First, there are three basic options for joint support supplements: products that claim they help rebuild joints, products that claim they reduce further damage, and products that just help you deal with the pain and swelling with no impact on the actual cause of the problem.
Here’s the most important pieces to understand about joint support supplements:The forms need to be right. There are cheap versions and there are the correct versions of products. We have to have the proper forms – the ones that have shown actual benefit in clinical data.Doses need to be big. Most joint support doses studied in trials are MUCH higher than what most people consume.
- The time frame needs to be right. Most joint health supplements won’t work today, tomorrow, or even next week. Most need to be taken in the right form at the right dose for 3 months – or more!
The big secret is that a lot of the tried-and-true joint formulations (I’m looking at you, Glucosamine/Chondroitin) have had very little data showing any benefit. Success rates are all over the place, with little evidence to show common treatments will actually work.
That doesn’t mean they can’t be tried! I don’t want you to give up and avoid these supplements. What I want, instead, is for us to approach joint health supplements in a stepwise, experimental manner. If someone sells you 4 products for joint health, how do you know which ones are helping? If you’ve been taking glucosamine for 10 years but your knees still hurt, is it doing anything? Why would we use something where the clinical evidence is weak when there may be something that we can recommend more confidently?
We want the right dose of the right form and we want to try it for the right time period. We start with the things with the most pronounced benefit first, and we can experiment with the more controversial options once we’ve successfully climbed the Wellness Pyramid.
Vital 5 Supplements for Joint Health
Our recommendations for joint support supplements start where ALL supplement recommendations start – with the Vital 5.
What makes a supplement a Vital 5 supplement? It’s a crucial nutrient we don’t get enough of in our diet, and when we do get enough, there’s actual evidence that it has some long-term benefit to one or more health issues. On our Wellness Pyramid, the Vital 5 fall here:
There are 3 of our Vital 5 that directly support joint health. Probiotics don’t really impact joint health at all. Multivitamins/Greens/Reds can be rich in antioxidants, but using a green powder won’t directly impact joint health. So the remaining 3 are:
- Fish Oil/Omega-3s
- Protein, specifically Collagen
- Bone Support formulas
Omega-3s have been discussed by us extensively. Because we have diets rich in Omega-6 but low in Omega-3, we set ourselves up for a pro-inflammatory state. To restore balance to the force, we should shoot for about 3000mg of EPA and DHA, a number far greater than the average non-Woodstock Vitamins consumer achieves.
Omega-3’s have a direct role in cartilage and synovial fluid creation. The reduction in inflammatory compounds also helps protect the joints from further damage. This advice goes for our pets as well. As we’ve discussed (PET RANT), their diets are low in Omega-3 and their joint pains can often be fixed with simple diet fixes and additional Omega-3.
From a quality perspective, remember 2 things. First, fish live in the ocean and are kinda gross. Fish oil products should be tested for ocean contaminants: PCBs, dioxins, heavy metals, and more. Secondly, because it is an oil, it can go rancid. We must test thoroughly to ensure we don’t have oxidized/spoiled Omega-3, or we could be introducing inflammatory components, defeating the purpose of supplementation.
Be aware that some omega-3 businesses are more sustainable than others – supporting the fisherman, the ecosystem, and the fishing areas.
Being a vegan, it would be difficult to get such a cost-effective Omega-3. Our top recommendation is Marine Algae Omega, but it is on backorder for a few months! Give us a call if you want an Omega-3, we may have a temporary substitute.
Check out our High Potency Omega 3 Collection to see all the options.
Many of us do fine with our protein goals, but some do not. It’s crucial to get a clean, minimally processed protein supplement if you cannot meat (hahaha!) your protein goals daily.
If you have joint health issues, my recommendation is to use collagen as your 2-for-1 protein supplement.
We talked recently about collagen but here’s the skinny:
- Collagen directly accumulates in the joints and muscles and are used to help build the important joint tissues
- Studies have shown athletes who consume collagen regularly have better performance and lower amounts of joint pain.
- Type II Collagen is made specifically from cartilage and joint tissue, and is thought to be more beneficial to those with joint health problems. But, taking an appropriate amount of mixed collagen will have the same impact. If you were looking for Type II Collagen, our Bovine Cartilage by FoodScience of Vermont.
There is no animal-free source of collagen.
Check out our full Collagen Collection for all the options!
My Top Pick: Our own Unflavored Collagen Peptides
Bone Support Formulas
Strong, healthy bones will lead to strong, healthy joints. Our comprehensive, unique formulation, Calcium Care, has our favorite forms of calcium along with foods rich in bone-and-joint-supporting nutrients like silica, boron, and Type II Collagen.
The Other Supplements for Joint Health
Glucosamine is the old standby for joint supplementation. Glucosamine deserves its own post, and will get it! The quick and dirty is this:
- Most people use the wrong form. The cheap version is Glucosamine HCl, which has a lower yield of active glucosamine than the glucosamine sulfate form. Shoot for glucosamine sulfate
- Most people don’t use enough. The dose in most trials is 1500mg of the sulfate form daily. This can be split or it can be taken at the same time.
- Like other joint support stuff, it should be used for at least 3 months before giving up on it.
There are many of you out there taking glucosamine for “joint health” but may not know whether or not it is doing anything. Here’s how you can tell: stop taking your glucosamine! If after 2 weeks your joints start bothering you worse than ever, you know the glucosamine was actually helping you. Then you can restart with the right dose and form, knowing it actually benefits!
GAG is short for glycosaminoglycans, which are a group of products that can help support healthy joints. The two GAGs you are probably most familiar with are chondroitin and hyaluronic acid.
Chondroitin is often paired with MSM and glucosamine in joint health formulas. Like all joint supplements, dose matters. It seems the data where there was benefit illustrated were doses of 800-1200mg of chondroitin, which is much more than what most people use.
When it comes to hyaluronic acid, we recommend the form found in our Vital Joint Integrity. Typical hyaluronic acid is a synthetic form made from GMO bacteria, where the ingredient Hyal-Joint comes from natural sources and has data to show absorption.
Where does MSM fit into this? It normally doesn’t. MSM needs MEGA doses to be beneficial for joint health. Most people get about 1000mg, but data I’ve found showing benefit has study participants taking nearly 6000mg! That’s just silly.
A proper extract of Turmeric can help support healthy inflammation levels in the body. We’ve ranted about Turmeric. Our Curcumin Supreme (soon to be renamed to Turmeric VMAX95) is a proper full extract of turmeric without the black pepper. This allows absorption WITHOUT the risks of drug interactions from black pepper extract.
Turmeric has various natural anti-inflammatory properties and can help support joint health by directly impacting inflammation and resulting pain. A proper made Turmeric can be used up to 3 times daily, but most people will benefit from once or twice daily dosing.
The new wonder supplement that’s taking the world by storm. Your grandma could even be using this marijuana cousin for whatever ails her. Since this is directly related to marijuana, there will be no puns here.
CBD now has established dosing recommendations for pain management. They are pretty wide – you can drive a truck through them.
Anecdotally, we are hearing that it is helping people with joint pain.
Visit our CBD page to learn all about it. Here’s the basics: everyone and their cousin is making it, plus it’s being sold everywhere. They’re going to be selling CBD ice cubes soon, I’m sure. Because of this, the market is flooded with high cost, low-quality stuff. When buying, approach it like this
- Compare cost per mg CBD. Cost of the product divided by the mg of actual CBD. Shoot for less than 10c per mg if you can, as we’ve found quality stuff in that range.
- Make sure they test every lot. Pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, solvents can get into hemp. You also want to be sure the potency is true.
- Start at a low dose – somewhere between 5 and 20mg.
- Climb the ladder. If you get no response, increase the dose the next time you use it.
Sublingual CBD will have the lowest cost per mg, great absorption, and will get to work quicker than silly things like oral tablets or CBD edibles. Save the edibles for the fun stuff.
Beware of topical CBD tricks: they put in stuff like menthol and camphor, which work really well for joint and muscle pain. So was it the $7 menthol/camphor, or the $50 CBD ingredient that did the trick?
Supplements For Healthy Joints – My Recommendations
If these don’t work, consider experimenting with one of the following:
OR, try a long-term joint support formula. One at a time, at the right dose, for a few months. Stop if it isn’t doing it for you:
- Glucosamine Chondroitin Plus
- Vital Joint Series Nourish
- Vital Joint Series Protect
- Vital Joint Series Integrity
Don’t forget, dealing with joint pain also benefits from:
- Traditional pain relievers
You’ll Never Look At Joints The Same Way
If you can not snicker the next time someone mentions “joint health” or “joint support”, you’re a better person than me. But that doesn’t take a lot.
Joint support much more than just having the right amount of munchies available for your session. Joint health is about the diet and lifestyle choices we make to make sure we stay flexible, strong, and active deep into the higher decades of our lives.
Using proper supplementation, prioritizing towards The Vital 5 can help support healthy joints. Omega-3s, collagen, and bone support supplements are the cornerstone. After this, experimenting with other joint support formulas such as glucosamine is a great option. As long as we have the proper dose and form of our supplements and have proper expectations about how long it will take to work, we can try these formulas and hope they add to our quality of life. The supplements themselves aren’t miracle workers and may not work for you, so we must take a holistic and experimental approach to the process.
Just trying to keep it real…
Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth