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Herbal medicines & supplements

Glucosamine, rosehip, and turmeric are examples of natural remedies that are said to be able to relieve osteoarthritis symptoms.

Photo of a piece of ginger next to a pile of powdered ginger against a white background.
Ginger is believed to be able to relieve joint pain and reduce inflammation.

Several different herbal medicines and supplements are marketed for osteoarthritis (OA) symptom relief. Examples of common herbal medicines include rosehip powder, turmeric, ginger, and green-lipped mussel. These natural medicines are sometimes used as anti-inflammatory alternatives to NSAIDs by patients who, for health-related reasons, are unable to use oral NSAIDs. However, there is currently not enough scientific evidence to prove that any of these medicines would have an effect on OA symptoms beyond the placebo effect. This does not rule out the possibility that they may in fact provide OA symptom relief for some people. If you do experience symptom relief from a herbal medicine or supplement and it has relatively few serious side effects, there is nothing that says you shouldn’t continue taking it.  It is important that you make your own informed decisions when choosing to take herbal medicines or supplements. If in doubt, always consult a doctor. 


Glucosamine

Glucosamine is an amino sugar found naturally in the body and a major component of articular cartilage. It has long been marketed as a dietary supplement to reduce joint pain and increase joint mobility and was approved as a drug by the Swedish Medical Products Agency in 2002. However, since then, several studies have been conducted that have shown that glucosamine in fact has no effect beyond the placebo effect. Glucosamine is therefore no longer prescribed by doctors but can instead be bought over-the-counter in pharmacies or health food shops. Several side effects have been registered since the substance was classified as a drug, including headaches, skin rashes, abdominal pain, and stomachache. Nevertheless, it is relatively harmless and can be used as an alternative treatment to relieve OA pain. Please note that glucosamine is extracted from shellfish and should not be taken by people allergic to shellfish.

Green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus)

From the New Zealand green-lipped mussel, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are extracted.  These omega-3 fatty acids are considered to have anti-inflammatory compounds that can reduce pain and improve joint function. However, if you suffer from fish, shellfish, or mussel allergies you should consult a doctor before taking green-lipped mussel supplements.

Rosehip (Rosa canina)

Rosehip powder ground from rosehips (the fruit of the rose plant) is believed to have anti-inflammatory agents that reduce mild to moderate OA pain. However, unbiased research studies are lacking to be able to conclude that rosehip powder would reduce pain more effectively than placebo.

Turmeric (Curcumin)

Curcumin, which is the active component of the spice turmeric, is said to have similar effects on pain as NSAIDs due to its anti-inflammatory properties. However, more scientific evidence is needed to evaluate the actual effect curcumin has on joint pain and inflammation before it can be recommended as a treatment for OA.

Ginger (Zingiberis rhizoma)

Ginger is believed to be able to relieve moderate OA pain due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger is safe to consume and does not pose any major health risks. However, scientific studies proving that ginger reduces pain and inflammation beyond the placebo effect are scarce.

Devil's Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens)

Devil's Claw is a South African plant that is believed to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. The plant has traditionally been used as a natural remedy for joint pain and devil’s claw extract in tablet or powder form can be bought in pharmacies and health food shops. However, there are no large-scale, unbiased scientific studies that determine the long-term efficacy and safety of the plant extract.

Type II collagen

Collagen is a protein found in the body’s connective tissues and the main component of articular cartilage. There are several types of collagen in the body and most collagen is type I collagen. However, it is type II collagen that is most abundant in articular cartilage. Collagen supplements have long been popular amongst people with OA as it is believed to rebuild and protect joint cartilage. However, there is no scientific evidence that collagen supplements are absorbed by the body or rebuild cartilage. There is also not enough scientific evidence to prove that collagen supplements reduce joint pain and stiffness beyond the placebo effect.