It comes as no surprise that the market for joint health supplements remains strong and continues to grow, especially with the expanding senior population. With age, the human body changes. Bone mass and density decrease, making the body more susceptible to breaks and fractures. The joints also degenerate, causing pain and inflammation, making it difficult to accomplish everyday tasks.
The joint health market has traditionally targeted Baby Boomers who are feeling the effects of years of wear and tear on their joints. With medical science around joint function gaining momentum from growing interest from the aging population in the United States, joint health is getting increased attention from the supplement industry as well as from consumers. As science has progressed toward identifying which ingredients are the most valuable and supportive, good supplement manufacturers quickly incorporate scientific data into their formulations.
Baby Boomers are much better educated and more physically active than prior generations. This generation has rejected common notions of set behaviors at a given age and wants to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle for as long as they can. The Boomer segment has the incentive, motivation and expendable income to pursue natural supplements to accompany more active lifestyles.
Although the market for joint supplements is strong within this group, it is quickly expanding to meet the needs of younger generations as well. The Baby Boomer group is no longer the only generation struggling with joint pain. Individuals can start having problems much earlier, depending on how much trauma they have experienced. Those who have been physically active will have episodes of micro trauma to their larger joints, such as ankles, shoulders, knees and hips that over time start to wear out and cause discomfort.
Younger generations also understand that it’s never too early to be proactive about joint health. Joint health products taken preemptively can support joint mobility and flexibility in the long term using key ingredients in the right proportion to protect bone, cartilage and connective tissue health. Those not yet experiencing pain or limited motion can start with a supportive dose of glucosamine and chondroitin for their joints and connective tissue. However, all joint nutrients need to be taken in the correct dosage, and the formula needs to supply effective ingredient ratios for maximum advantage.
Manufacturers create targeted and complex formulations to support health and fitness for varying levels of joint health. These range from basic maintenance formulas for those not yet showing signs of issues or discomfort, to moderate support formulas for those with initial discomfort such as minor stiffness and soreness, and to stronger, more complex formulas for those with acute issues, such as excessive stress or damage to the joint tissue.
Learning about the nutrients in these formulas and how they perform in the body will provide consumers of all generations with the tools they need to make educated choices about joint issues before bigger problems occur.
Glucosamine is the key building block for tissue integrity. Studies show glucosamine aids in the production of new cartilage, maintains healthy cartilage and supports healthy joint function.1 The two forms of glucosamine, hydrochloride and sulfate, deliver equally effective amounts of glucosamine. Glucosamine hydrochloride contains approximately 25 to 30 percent more bioavailable glucosamine for considerably less cost.2
Chondroitin Sulfate is the primary substance found in cartilage. Its key functions include inhibiting enzymes that degrade cartilage tissue and decrease water retention for synovial fluid production, and utilizing glucosamine in the formation of proteoglycans. Proteolglycans organize collagen and water-binding to give cartilage its desired flexibility, resiliency and resistance. Chondroitin sulfate has also shown the ability to activate chondrocytes, which produce new collagen.3
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is found naturally in food and throughout the body. A bioavailable source of sulfur, MSM is important for connective tissue health and has been shown to reduce cartilage breakdown by protecting the cartilage tissue.4
Hyaluronic Acid (HA) is also found throughout the body, with the highest concentration in soft connective tissue. HA gives elasticity to the joints and retains water in the cellular matrix. It is important for tissue hydration, lubrication, and proper cellular function.5
Eggshell Membrane, taken from the unique protective barrier between the egg white and the mineralized egg shell, provides support for joint mobility, flexibility and function.6
Collagen proteins primarily protect joints directly by supporting the integrity of joint tissues. The mechanism by which these proteins work is similar to that of glucosamine and chondroitin: they protect the tissues by providing structural support proteins and by protecting chondrocyte cell integrity.7 Collagen proteins are becoming more widely used in part because they are natural sources of chondroitin sulfate and HA.
Many herbs and botanical extracts have shown great promise in supporting joint health. Yucca and boswellia extracts enhance the benefits of the foundation ingredients by reducing oxidative stress that can increase free radical formation and generate a greater stress on the joints. Devil’s claw, turmeric, cat’s claw, fever few, white willow bark and cayenne have shown significant value as part of a well-balanced joint support formula. These plant-based phytonutrients have demonstrated natural antioxidant, anti-free radical activity, tissue fluid balancing effects, as well as discomfort modulating properties.8
Jack Grogan is chief science officer for Uckele Health & Nutrition (uckele.com). He is a recognized expert in hair mineral analysis, a valuable tool in determining the causes of nutritional imbalances or deficiencies. With considerable experience in the fields of biology, biochemistry and nutrition, he has been influential in the development of hundreds of proprietary nutritional formulas and programs.
1. Kongtharvonskul J et al. “Efficacy and safety of glucosamine, diacerein, and NSAIDs in osteoarthritis knee: a systematic review and network meta-analysis." Eur J Med Res. 2015 Mar 13;20:24. DOI: 10.1186/s40001-015-0115-7.
2. Lotz MK, Caramés B. “Autophagy and cartilage homeostasis mechanisms in joint health, aging and OA." Nat Rev Rheumatol. 2011 Aug 2;7(10):579-87. doi: 10.1038/nrrheum.2011.109.
3. Uebelhart D et al. “Effects of oral chondroitin sulfate on the progression of knee osteoarthritis: a pilot study." Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 1998 May;6 Suppl A:39-46.
4. Stuber K, Sajko S, Kristmanson K. “Efficacy of glucosamine, chondroitin, and methylsulfonylmethane for spinal degenerative joint disease and degenerative disc disease: a systematic review." J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2011 Mar;55(1):47-55.
5. Balazs EA et al. “Hyaluronic acid in synovial fluid. I. Molecular parameters of hyaluronic acid in normal and arthritis human fluids." Arthritis Rheum. 1967 Aug;10(4):357-76.
6. Ruff KJ et al. “Eggshell membrane in the treatment of pain and stiffness from osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized, multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study." Clin Rheumatol. 2009 Aug;28(8):907-14. doi: 10.1007/s10067-009-1173-4.
7. Matthews B. “Collagen-chondroitin sulphate ratio of human articular cartilage related to function." Br Med J. 1952 Dec 13;2(4797):1295.
8. Gregory P et al. “Dietary Supplements and Osteoarthritis," American Family Physician. 2008 Jan 15;77(2):177-184.