The guy at our local vitamin shop has advised me against taking glucosamine for my arthritis. I have allergies to shellfish and these supplements are evidently made from the shells of shellfish. Are these pills really helpful? Does having an allergy to shellfish really mean I should avoid them?

Glucosamine is a sugar the body produces naturally that is needed for good cellular structure of joint cartilage. It helps keep the cartilage able to attract water and thus stay hydrated. Good hydration of the cartilage cells creates the positive pressure needed to stand up under load and pressure.

This is particularly helpful at the knee where most of the load from the ground up is transferred from the foot to the knee. And, of course, the knee is the joint that seems to give out first for many people who develop degenerative osteoarthritis.

Many of the glucosamine products on the market do have ground up shells from shellfish in them. Most of the allergic reactions to shellfish are to the flesh of the animal inside the shell rather than to the shell itself. People who are allergic to shellfish may be able to take preparations of glucosamine made from shellfish without any problems. But you should only do this under the supervision of a physician in conjunction with a pharmacist who understands the product being taken (or considered).

There are some glucosamine products made from vegetable sources that do not contain shells or any part of shellfish. You can consult with your pharmacist about these as well. The downside is that most of these alternative glucosamine products contain corn. There is some concern about modified genetically grown corn and the effect of these corn-based products on our DNA.

There are some other products available that may be of interest to you in the search for ways to naturally alleviated joint pain. For example, fish oil is one supplement used for both osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). As the name suggests, the oil comes from fish and contains omega-3 fatty acids. It is a natural anti-inflammatory that is not made by the human body.

Studies show that fish oil does decrease joint tenderness and morning stiffness. Patients taking fish oil have also been able to decrease the use of nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Physician should let patients know it can take eight to 12 weeks for the full benefit of fish oil to kick in.

As with all drugs and supplements, fish oil can have adverse side effects for some people. These may include gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), diarrhea, headaches, and a lingering fish taste in the mouth or odor on the breath. Studies are still needed to see if fish oil can prevent or delay the progression of osteoarthritis (OA).

Another popular supplement taken for joint pain is SAMe, which stands for S-adenosylmethionine. Now you can see why the name SAMe is preferred! Each cell of the body creates its own SAMe. In the joint, it thickens and protects cartilage while also preventing joint pain. Taking SAMe as a supplement seems to improve pain and function.

In the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), many patients find relief with capsaicin. Capsaicin contains an enzyme that gives chili its “heat.” Used as a cream rubbed over and around a painful joint, it creates irritation of the skin. This, in turn, activates nerve fibers in the skin. The end-result is to distract the brain-body from recognizing joint pain.

Thunder god vine is a Chinese herb that can be taken as a pill or applied as a skin cream. Unlike some of the other supplements taken for joint pain that must be taken for months to years to be beneficial, thunder god vine provides pain relief and decreased joint swelling in the first 10 to 14 days. There are some potential adverse side effects though such as anemia, kidney problems, headache, hair loss, upset stomach, and even male infertility.

It’s always a good idea to be an informed consumer when searching out products like any of these. Be sure and consult with a pharmacist and your primary care doctor or orthopedic physician. They may have some specific recommendations for you given your current, age, health, past medical history, and so on.