Joint supplements have become very popular, especially in recent years with the discovery of some new ingredients, but with popularity comes criticism and scrutiny. There have been mixed reviews surrounding joint supplements for as long as they have been around. Everything from “they don’t do anything” to “they work miracles” has been reported. While there is an abundance of supporting research, critics claim the studies were poorly conducted or that results were not very significant. To make things even more complicated, a lot of studies show mixed results; improvements in certain areas, but not others or improvements in certain groups, but not in other groups.
So what’s with all the complexity and confusion? The reason it’s complex is because joints themselves are very complex. Joint pain is a fairly vague term and could have a multitude of causes. These can include: overuse, trauma, disease, inflammation, imbalances, scar tissue, etc. Most joint supplements are designed to aide with certain specific processes inside the joint, but if your joint issue isn’t due to that process, then that supplement may not help or only help a little. Basically, if you have a ton of scar tissue in your knee, some glucosamine isn’t going to magically clear it up. However, if your knee joint is slowly deteriorating and causing you pain, glucosamine may help. Another important thing to note is that joints have notoriously poor blood flow. Because of this they have poor nutrient delivery, which means joint supplements have a hard time actually getting to the joint. It takes some time for them to actually get into the joints and get to levels that may be beneficial. Most people make two very common mistakes: they do not take them daily or they only take them for a few weeks and then stop. The optimal results and findings in the research have come from the longer studies, with the greatest results coming around the three-month mark. So, if you are going to take joint supplements, make sure to take them consistently and for a period of two to three months to see greatest benefits.
Inflammation is one of the biggest enemies of joint health. When joints get inflamed, they become stiff, sore and lose function. Chronic joint inflammation can cause arthritis and joint degradation. Inflammation is a natural response of the body to injury, overuse, or strain. While some inflammation is good for healing, too much inflammation or long-term inflammation can cause tremendous damage to joints. Hmm, can you think of anything that may cause continuous injury, strain, or overuse of joints? I mean, the premise of jiu-jitsu is literally to attack joints! So as you can imagine, we are at risk for chronic joint inflammation. Managing this inflammation then becomes a key for maintaining healthy joints. The most important components of reducing chronic inflammation are hydration and a healthy diet. Be sure you are drinking enough water daily. The minimum, and I repeat MINIMUM, you should be drinking is half your bodyweight in ounces. On training days you should aim to consume an extra 20-30 ounces per hour of training. A healthy balanced diet will also help reduce chronic inflammation. Avoiding overly processed foods and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables are the keys here. Omega-3s also play a huge role in keeping inflammation in check. Try to consume as much omega-3s in your diet as possible, but I also recommend supplementing with 1-2 grams of fish oil daily. A new supplement, undenatured type II collagen, may also help with joint inflammation.
Undenatured Type II Collagen
Collagen supplements are fairly new and usually come in two forms. Hydrolyzed collagen used to be the most popular form with claims to skin health as well as joint health. However, recently a new form of undenatured type II collagen has been growing in popularity for its joint health benefits. Although still in its infancy, the research shows a lot of promise. This is partly due to a potential autoimmune component. Unlike glucosamine and other common joint supplements, undenatured type II collagen contains molecular regions called epitopes. Epitopes are immune system markers that interact with certain antibodies to trigger the deactivation of collagen-specific killer T-cells. This can then help disable the inflammatory process. This suggests that undenatured type II collagen may help reduce the incidence and severity of arthritis. And since we know that joint physiology during exercise follows these same processes, it is believed it will help restore joint function and relieve discomfort in athletes. Type II collagen has also been shown to increase range of motion in joints, as well as reduce cartilage degradation and so far the science supports it. One study showed a significant increase in range of motion and a significant decrease in joint pain and discomfort in healthy individuals. In fact, numerous other studies have been confirming and showing numerous benefits of undenatured type II collagen for joint health. Most importantly, clinical studies have shown undenatured type II collagen to be safe and tolerable in humans. So what does all this mean for you? It means undenatured type II collagen may just be one of the best things for preventing joint degradation. It is definitely worth trying. The most effective dosage so far appears to be 40mg daily.