7 Supplements for Joints & The Science Behind How They Work
Vitamins & Supplements
7 Supplements for Joints & The Science Behind How They Work
by Amy Sunderman, MS, RD • May 21, 2021

Millions of Americans report joint concerns each year. Between 2010 and 2012, a staggering 52.5 million adults experienced joint issues, and those numbers are expected to keep growing.1 With so many people concerned about joint health, it isn’t surprising that joint care supplements are increasingly available.

Nourishing your joints may be one of the most important things you can do to stay flexible and mobile as you age and support healthy joints and active lifestyles. But with so many joint health supplements out there, how do you know which to choose? Let’s review some of the most common joint-supporting nutrients and herbs, and the research behind how they work.

1. Glucosamine for Joint Health

Glucosamine is a compound that helps keep cartilage healthy. It’s one of the primary building blocks found in cartilage, and it plays a role in building tendons, ligaments and the thick synovial fluid that surrounds joints.2 Since cartilage is one of the primary structures that provides cushioning for your bones at the joints throughout your body, it makes sense that supporting the health of your cartilage is important for your joint health.3

Glucosamine supplements are available in several forms, including glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride and N-acetyl-glucosamine. Most clinical studies have focused on the sulfate form of glucosamine, which is typically formulated from shellfish. For people with shellfish allergies, glucosamine hydrochloride may be a better option, but be sure to read the product label to check ingredients and warnings before taking a glucosamine supplement if you have shellfish allergies.

Glucosamine is often supplemented at 1,500 mg once each day or 500 mg three times per day, or 750 mg twice per day when combined with 500 mg of turmeric root twice daily, but always follow the instructions on your product labels.2

How Does Glucosamine Help Joints?

As we age, cartilage can weaken and break down, which may affect how joints function and feel.3 Clinical evidence has shown that certain glucosamine supplements may help slow the effects of aging on cartilage within our joints and support joint mobility and flexibility.2

According to the Mayo Clinic, enough evidence exists to encourage people who are concerned about joint health to consider trying a glucosamine supplement.4

Explore glucosamine benefits in-depth by reading Glucosamine Benefits for Joint Health & Beyond.

Glucosamine Supplements to Try

Swanson Premium Glucosamine Sulfate 2KC1
Take care of your joints every day with Swanson Glucosamine Sulfate. A compound derived from shellfish, glucosamine sulfate delivers key structural components for the shock-absorbing cartilage that cushions joints for comfortable movement.

Swanson Ultra Glucosamine – Shellfish Free
Our vegetarian, shellfish free glucosamine features glucosamine hydrochloride, a state-of-the-art formulation derived from corn. It’s the only supplemental glucosamine that comes from a non-shellfish source, which is an essential consideration for anyone with seafood allergies.

2. Chondroitin Supplements for Joints

Like glucosamine, chondroitin is a major building block of cartilage that naturally occurs in connective tissues throughout the body.5 It’s a critical component in the formation of cartilage, and since healthy cartilage is vital to joint health, nourishing the cartilage in our joints may help provide some comfort for aging joints.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are often taken together in a combination supplement for joint health, and the two substances play similar, vital roles in joint maintenance. Some experts say chondroitin may not be absorbed as efficiently by the body as glucosamine because chondroitin molecules are larger than glucosamine.6 While glucosamine is absorbed at 90-98% by the body, chondroitin is only absorbed at a rate of up to 13%, meaning less of it may reach cartilage cells.5

Regardless, chondroitin remains one of the most popular joint-supporting supplements, and the National Center for Complementary Integrative Health reported that 6.5 million people took glucosamine and/or chondroitin (often taken together) in 2012 alone.7

When combined with glucosamine, chondroitin is often supplemented at 400 mg, 2 to 3 times per day.2 When taken alone, some studies have used 1,200 to 1,800 mg of chondroitin once per day or divided that daily amount into 2 to 3 doses, but since the ideal dosage is unknown always follow the directions on your product label.5

How Does Chondroitin Support Joints?

Like glucosamine, chondroitin is a building block of cartilage. Chondroitin is a water loving molecule, and therefore helps draw fluid into the joint, supporting the cushioning qualities of cartilage. A clinical study of 800 mg of chondroitin sulfate per day found a significant reduction in cartilage loss with supplementation.8

Chondroitin Supplements to Try

Swanson Premium Chondroitin Sulfate
Give your joints the nutritional tools to keep them functioning smoothly with Swanson Chondroitin Sulfate. A constituent of the cartilage that cushions each joint, chondroitin sulfate is one of the world's most popular supplemental nutrients for joint health maintenance.

Swanson Premium Glucosamine & Chondroitin
Help keep your joints in top working order with Swanson Glucosamine and Chondroitin. These unique nutritional compounds deliver the raw materials to help maintain the cartilage that cushions our joints for comfortable movement.

Swanson Ultra Albion Chelated Magnesium & Calcium 2:1
Albion Chelated Magnesium & Calcium 2:1 reverses the traditional ratio, delivering adequate supplemental levels of each mineral along with vitamin D-3 and K-2 to ensure optimum absorption.

3. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) for Joint Health

MSM is a sulfur compound found naturally in our bodies. In nature, MSM is present in small amounts in vegetables, fruits and grains.9 Sulfur is crucial for repairing connective tissues, which is one area in which it may provide benefits for joint health.10 It’s also involved in the metabolism of certain foods and helps your body absorb nutrients. MSM supports collagen and keratin and may play a role in supporting immune response to stressors, plus it may support muscles during workouts and help fight oxidative stress caused by exercise.11,12

Although people take MSM supplements for a variety of reasons, from promoting hair health to exercise recovery, it’s most often taken to help support joint health, promote flexibility and preserve collagen.13 Numerous clinical studies have been conducted on MSM for joints with promising results.12,13 However, MSM is a dietary supplement and not a cure for chronic joint issues related to diseases that affect joints.

MSM is commonly supplemented in doses between 500 mg to 6,000 mg per day, with a great safety record. Follow the directions on your product label for best results.

How Does MSM Work?

MSM supplements are a highly absorbable form of organic sulfur that may support joints by helping your body form healthy connective tissue and encouraging comfort and vitality of joints, tendons and ligaments. MSM is also an antioxidant and may help keep joints healthy by assisting immune response to stressors.

Read MSM Benefits: Joint Health & Beyond to get the full scoop on how MSM may benefit your health.

MSM Supplements to Try

Swanson Ultra MSM
Support healthy cartilage, tendons, ligaments and skin easily with the help of Swanson TruFlex® MSM. This unique formula is an organic form of the essential mineral sulfur and is biologically active for easy assimilation.

Swanson Premium MSM Powder
Take care of your vital joint tissues with Swanson MSM. A biologically active form of the essential mineral sulfur, MSM delivers basic nourishment for the tissues that keep your joints working smoothly. It's also great for maintaining healthy hair, skin and nails.

4. Collagen for Joint Support

Collagen is a protein and a natural part of cartilage, bone and other tissues.14 It’s found in skin, muscles, and tendons and it’s the most abundant protein in the animal kingdom.15

There are many different types of collagen and collagen supplements, but type II collagen is the major type of collagen in cartilage, imparting strength and the ability to compress to the cartilage within our joints so they can absorb shocks.15

Supplemental collagen is derived from bovine, chicken or fish sources, and many also feature key amino acids like glycine, proline and lysine. Collagen type II is has been used safely in studies in doses of up to 2.5mg to 40mg for 42 days, and the appropriate dose for each person depends on age, health and other conditions.14,16 Be sure to follow the directions on your product labels and check with your doctor to make sure collagen supplements are right for you.

How Does Collagen Help Joints?

Collagen supplements are believed to work by triggering substances in the body that help comfort joints, although research has not proven exactly how that process may work.14 Collagen also contains chondroitin and glucosamine, both of which may benefit joint health.14 It may support the fluids, functioning and integrity of the cartilage within joints, thus promoting joint health.

Undenatured Type II collagen works specifically with the immune system to help support your joint health. Clinical studies have supported the use of this ingredient at 40 mg per day to support joint health, function and comfort.17

Collagen Supplements to Try

Swanson Ultra UC-II Standardized Collagen
Keep your joints working comfortably with the patented nutrition of UC-II Standardized Collagen. Awarded four U.S. patents for use in promoting joint health, UC-II is the only type II collagen supplement that's undenatured, retaining its original molecular structure.

Swanson High Plains Collagen Hydrolysate Powder
This high quality, highly bioavailable bovine protein provides collagen types I & III in a dissolving powder. With no fillers, flavors, colors or additives of any kind, this easy-to-use mix makes it easier than ever to add key amino acids that are essential to maintaining healthy connective tissue like glycine, proline and lysine. 

5. Turmeric for Healthy Joints

Turmeric is a spice made from the dried and ground root of the turmeric plant, a plant in the same family as ginger. It has been used as an herbal tonic for thousands of years, and many of the benefits of turmeric are attributed to a phytochemical within it known as curcumin.

Curcumin is an extremely potent antioxidant carotenoid pigment with potential uses for many areas of health, including memory, digestion, circulation and joint health.18,19 As a nutrient for joint health, turmeric may have comforting qualities and support healthy joint function.

People taking turmeric or curcumin supplements for joint health have taken 500 mg, 2 to 4 times per day for between 6 weeks and 3 months.19 Read your product label and check with your doctor if you aren’t sure about the best turmeric dosage for you.

How Does Turmeric Support Joint Health?

Turmeric may have comforting qualities for joints and it provides antioxidant support.19 Since turmeric is fat-soluble instead of water-soluble, it’s best to consume turmeric with a meal that contains some fat or oil, or to seek highly bioavailable turmeric supplements. You may want to try turmeric supplements combined with black pepper, which may help with absorption, or Swanson Ultra Turmeric Phytosome, which is a potent form of turmeric studied for its joint health benefits.19,20

Explore curcumin and turmeric in depth in the article Turmeric vs Curcumin: What is the Difference?

Turmeric Supplements to Try

Swanson Ultra Turmeric Phytosome
Turmeric Phytosome with Meriva represents the pinnacle of turmeric science. Meriva delivers active herbal components enveloped by phospholipids in a patented molecular complex. Preliminary research shows that Meriva is absorbed up to 10 times better than standard, non-complexed turmeric.

Swanson Premium Turmeric & Black Pepper
Our capsules feature a potent 600 mg of turmeric fortified with black pepper to ensure optimal bioavailability. Since ancient times, India’s Ayurvedic herbalists have used turmeric as a cardiovascular and liver health tonic and to promote joint comfort and mobility.

Swanson Ultra High Absorption TheracurminTM
TheracurminTM is a proprietary turmeric preparation featuring finely milled turmeric in a colloidal suspension with glycerin and gum ghatti, which is a complex polysaccharide derived from the sap of the ghatti tree. This formula offers dramatically enhancing bioavailability to increase curcumin levels in the blood. Human trials show that TheracurminTM is over 27 times more bioavailable than standard curcumin.

6. Vitamin D for Joint Health

You may know vitamin D as the sunshine vitamin since our bodies make it when our skin is exposed to the sun. This essential nutrient is well-known for helping support many areas of health, including healthy bones and teeth, cardiovascular health, muscle support and more.21 But does vitamin D support joint health?

The answer to that isn’t so simple. Studies have repeatedly found low levels of vitamin D in people with joint concerns, which means there may be a link between vitamin D and joint health.21 And some researchers believe low vitamin D levels may complicate joint issues.21 While vitamin D deficiency may be associated with joint issues, there is no conclusive evidence that vitamin D supplementation provides specific joint health benefits for those with adequate vitamin D levels.

But if you consider the fact that most Americans are deficient in vitamin D, and combine that knowledge with an awareness of the large number of people in the US who have joint health concerns, the potential link between vitamin D and joint health shouldn’t be ignored.1,22,23 We should all do our best to make sure we get our daily recommended intake of vitamin D, as there are plenty of reasons beyond joint health to do so.

According to recommendations by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB), healthy adults between 19 and 70 years of age should get 600 IU of vitamin D each day, and adults over 71 should get 800 IU each day.24 Although we can get vitamin D from food sources, sometimes this can be difficult, however, daily intake levels can easily be achieved with vitamin D supplements.

How Does Vitamin D Support Joint Health?

The potential benefits of vitamin D for joint health may be related to the vital role vitamin D plays in calcium and phosphorus absorption, including its roles in the release of calcium from the intestines and the active transport of phosphorus.25

Phosphorus works together with calcium to help build bones. Low levels of phosphorus alongside low levels of calcium and vitamin D for long periods of time may lead to weakness or softness of bones, which might contribute to muscle and joint concerns.26

To learn more about the benefits of vitamin D and foods containing vitamin D, read Say Hello to the Sunshine Vitamin: Top Foods High in Vitamin D.

Vitamin D Supplements to Try

Swanson Premium Vitamin D-3 Highest Potency
Supports healthy bones, immune wellness, and cardiovascular wellness, and promotes calcium absorption in the body. This supplement provides a potent does of 5,000 IU per serving.

Calcium Citrate & Vitamin D
A potent and economical choice for supplementing your calcium and vitamin D intake for bone nourishment and enhanced absorption. This supplement features 315 mg of calcium in each tablet, plus 10 mcg of vitamin D.

7. Calcium and Joint Health

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body, and it’s primarily stored in bones and teeth to help them stay strong.27 It also helps muscles contract and expand and plays a role in nervous system health.27

The relationship between calcium and joint health is multifaceted. As we age, our bodies become less efficient at absorbing calcium.28 In fact, by about age 30 our bones have reached their peak calcium content and start to lose calcium slowly, but you can help slow those losses by getting enough calcium every day.28 Why does that matter for joint health? Several areas of joint health concern may coincide with bone weakness or changes in bone mass or mineral density.29

One misconception regarding calcium and joint health involves the role of calcium in joint crystals. Experts say that the formation of calcium crystals in joints is not related to calcium intake except in individuals that have rare metabolic concerns that raise levels of calcium in the blood.30

The FNB recommends that adults between 19 and 50 years of age get 1,000 mg of calcium per day. Males 51 to 70 should also aim for 1,000 mg per day, and females 51 to 70 need 1,200 mg per day. Male and female adults over 71 years of age should get 1,200 mg of calcium each day.

How Does Calcium Support Joint Health?

Calcium plays a role in keeping bones strong and healthy bones are important for healthy joints. Cartilage is avascular, meaning it does not have its own blood and nutrient supply. As we move the synovial fluid from joints is pushed down through the bony channels of subchondral bone where it draws nutrients from the blood supply in the bone and carries those nutrients back to the cartilage. As bone health declines, these bony channels can breakdown, which makes this process less efficient. 

You can learn about the different types of calcium supplements in the article Your Complete Guide to Calcium Supplements.

Calcium Supplements to Try

Swanson Premium Calcium Citrate
Calcium Citrate is one of the most absorbable and bioavailable forms of supplemental calcium. For those looking for a pure Calcium Citrate without added magnesium, vitamin D or other nutrients, we present these economical 200 mg capsules.

Swanson Ultra Coral Calcium Complex
This unique mineral formula features the ideal 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium, along with 73 trace minerals in a perfect, pH balanced combination made by nature.

The Best Herbs for Joints

There are a few key herbal ingredients that are clinically-backed for helping keep your joints healthy and comfortable. Here are the best of the best:

  • Boswellia: A member of the Burseraceae plant family, boswellia has been used for thousands of years by Ayurvedic practitioners in India. Great for supporting restful sleep and immune health, boswellia is arguably most well known for what it can do for your joints. Studies have shown that boswellia is especially useful in promoting joint function and comfort.31
  • Heartwood: A thorny tree found in South Asia known as the cutch tree (Acacia catechu) is the source for heartwood. Heartwood is rich in catechins, powerful antioxidant polyphenols found in plants. Research indicates that heartwood is an excellent supporter of joint health, mobility and comfort.32
  • Chinese Skullcap: A staple of traditional Chinese herbalism, Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) is a must-have for those looking for a little extra joint support. This flowering member of the mint family has been clinically studied for promoting joint comfort, and may be especially beneficial when taken with heartwood.33
  • White Mulberry Root: Taken from the root of the mulberry tree (Morus alba) found in Northern China, white mulberry root is a potent source of antioxidant flavonoids and ployphenols. Studies show these antioxidant compounds may boost white mulberry root’s ability to aid joint health, comfort and mobility.32

Get the benefits of all the joint-supporting herbs mentioned above in one convenient capsule with Swanson Ultra Pure Joint, a fast-acting and potent joint health formula featuring patented and scientifically-studied herbal ingredients shown to promote joint comfort in as few as 7 days while also supporting joint flexibility and mobility.  Combination Supplements for Joints

Many supplements that support joints are taken together to provide joint nourishment from multiple angles. In addition to our Pure Science Herbals Pure Joint, featuring the best, science-backed herbs for joints all in one formula, other popular joint health combination formulas include MSM and glucosamine, glucosamine and chondroitin, and some supplements contain a nourishing trio of MSM, Chondroitin and Glucosamine.

Researchers are continually evaluating new ways to help maintain healthy joints at every age. And as new information becomes available, Swanson Health will be here to keep you up to date and provide superior formulas for supporting joint health.

To learn more about the benefits of the joint-supporting nutrients discussed in this article, read What is Turmeric?, MSM Benefits: Joint Health & Beyond and Glucosamine Overview: The Best Types (and Forms) for Joint Health.

Amy Sunderman, MS, RD, Director of Science & Innovation Registered Dietitan





About Amy Sunderman, MS, RD
Director of Science & Innovation, Registered Dietitian, Swanson Health

Amy is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author with over 17 years of experience in the supplement industry. Amy is passionate about dietary supplements and the health benefits they offer. She enjoys working to find novel nutritional ingredients with strong clinical research behind them to drive innovation and provide health-promoting products to consumers.


1 Number of Americans With Severe Joint Pain Rising. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/arthritis/news/20161006/number-of-americans-with-severe-joint-pain-keeps-rising 

2 Glucosamine Sulfate. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/807.html 

3 Understanding Cartilage, Joints, and the Aging Process. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/osteoarthritis/understanding-aging-and-joints#1

4 Glucosamine. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-glucosamine/art-20362874 

5 Chondroitin. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/supplement-guide-chondroitin

6 Chondroitin. Drugs.com. https://www.drugs.com/npc/chondroitin.html 

7 Use of Complimentary Health Approaches in the US. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/NHIS/2012/natural-products/glucosamine-chondroitin

8 Chondroitin sulphate reduces both cartilage volume loss and bone marrow lesions in knee osteoarthritis patients starting as early as 6 months after initiation of therapy: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study using MRI. BMJ Journals. http://ard.bmj.com/content/early/2011/03/01/ard.2010.140848 

9 MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) Dietary Supplement. Medicine Net. https://www.medicinenet.com/methylsulfonylmethane_msm-oral/article.htm 

10 MSM: What You Need to Know. How Stuff Works, Health. https://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/natural-medicine/alternative/msm3.htm 

11 Methylsulfonylmethane: Applications and Safety of a Novel Dietary Supplement https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5372953 

12 Effect of MSM Supplementation on Exercise-induced Muscle Damage and Total Antioxidant Capacity. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. https://www.researchgate.net/ 

13 MSM (methylsulfonylmethane). WebMD.com. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/msm-methylsulfonylmethane-uses-and-risks 

14 Collagen Type II. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-714/collagen-type-ii 

15 Collagen. Molecular Cell Biology. 4th edition. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21582 

16 Effects of orally administered undenatured type II collagen against arthritic inflammatory diseases: a mechanistic exploration. Int J Clin Pharmacol Res 2002; 22(3-4):101-10.) 

17 Efficacy and tolerability of an undenatured type II collagen supplement in modulating knee osteoarthritis symptoms: a multicenter randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26822714 

18 Turmeric. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-662/turmeric 

19 Turmeric. The Golden Spice. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/ 

20 Efficacy and safety of Meriva®, a curcumin-phosphatidylcholine complex, during extended administration in osteoarthritis patients. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21194249

21 Vitamin D. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-929/vitamin-d 

22 Vitamin D deficiency soars in the U.S., study says. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/vitamin-d-deficiency-united-states/ 

23 Is There a Connection Between Vitamin D and Joint Pain? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/vitamin-d-and-joint-pain 

24 Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Consumers. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-Consumer/

25 Intestinal absorption of calcium and phosphorus. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7192650 

26 How Your Body Uses Phosphorus. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-your-body-uses-phosphorus

27 Calcium. Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/calcium.html 

28 Calcium. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/ 

29 Bone Density. Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/bonedensity.html 

30 Calcium Beyond the Bones. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/calcium-beyond-the-bones (Accessed 05/07/2018)

31 Boswellia Serrata, A Potential Anti-inflammatory Agent: An Overview. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3309643/

32 The Effects of Morus alba and Acacia catechu on Quality of Life and Overall Function in Adults with Osteoarthritis of the Knee. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jnme/2017/4893104/#B14

33 A Combination of Scutellaria Baicalensis and Acacia Catechu Extracts for Short-Term Symptomatic Relief of Joint Discomfort Associated with Osteoarthritis of the Knee. Journal of Medicinal Food. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/jmf.2013.0010

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Originally Published | 8/26/2020
Updated | 5/21/2021

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