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Top Herbs for Joint Health

Article at-a-glance:

  • Herbal remedies have been used for centuries in traditional cultures around the world to boost joint health.
  • Modern clinical trials have studied plant extracts from bromelain, Turmeric, Boswellia and other plants.
  • These nutrients provide significant health benefits, including maintaining healthy inflammation balance, promoting joint mobility and function and supporting musculoskeletal health.
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by Dr. John Neustadt

Inflammation is an important mechanism for health and healing. Healthy inflammation is crucial for joint health, your immune system, tissue repair and healing. Studies with herbs show that they support healthy inflammation balance, joint health, joint mobility and function. 

Indian Frankincense (Boswellia serrata)

Boswellia has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic system of health to promote healthy inflammation balance, and boswellia extract has been shown in modern studies to support joint,12,13,14 lung11 and colon health.15 

Boswellia promotes healthy collagen by breaking down inflammatory molecules associated with damaging collagen.16 A 2014 review of five different studies in humans found Boswellia superior to placebo in supporting healthy joint mobility and function.17 People can experience these benefits within a few days to one week.18 

Like all plants, Boswellia contains thousands of molecules. In modern research and dietary supplement manufacturing, to help maintain quality control and consistency from one batch of raw material to the next, a standardized extract of the plant is often used. A common benchmark molecule used in clinical trials is 3-O-acetyl-11-keto-beta-boswellic acid (AKBA). Boswellia studies often report the percent AKBA in the herbal extract being used. 

Boswellia also proved helpful and safe in a four-month double-blind, placebo-controlled study.19  The study used a standardized extract of the herb and looked at 48 individuals who took boswellia extract for knee health. After 120 days, the group taking the Boswellia extract standardized to 30% AKBA experienced a 39% improvement in knee mobility and a 52% improvment in the ability to be active as evaluated by a physician. C-reactive protein (CRP), a pro-inflammatory molecule was also reduced in the Boswellia group.  

In another clinical trial, Boswellia combined with Turmeric, which I discuss in detail below, was effective at promoting knee health. There were no side effects in participants taking the herbal blend.23 In this study, a standardized Boswellia extract containing 10% AKBA was used.

A systemic review of Boswellia was published in 2020.24 The researchers evaluated data from seven clinical trials and 545 volunteers. They found that the studies overwhelmingly support the use of Boswellia to support healthy inflammation balance and promote joint health. 

Bromelain (from pineapple)

Bromelain is derived from the stem and fruit of the pineapple plant and has long been used as part of traditional healing systems. It contains a mixture of enzymes and molecules that have powerfully promote healthy inflammation balance and joint activity. Bromelain promotes healthy blood clotting,which is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure. It also promotes a healthy immune response and is absorbed from the gut without losing its potency or activity.25,26 

Bromelain has shown benefit alone or in combination with other phytonutrients in support joint health and physical function. In two separate studies, a blend of bromelain with other natural compounds supported a healthy inflammation response.27 Another study of forty patients found that bromelain promoted joint physical function, supported more activity and reduced blood markers of inflammation.28 And a review of ten separate studies on bromelain—from case reports to randomized trials—found that bromelain supports healthy inflammation balance, range of motion and joint funtion.29

Turmeric (Curcumin)

Curcumin is the primary active ingredient in turmeric and this golden-root plant has been a foundation of both Ayurvedic and Chinese health systems for thousands of years.30 It’s composed of three golden-hued polyphenols that have antioxidant and inflammation-regulating properties, with particular ability to support healthy inflammation balance.31 I love adding it to my morning smoothie. Over 7000 articles have reviewed curcumin’s health potential and there have been more than 100 clinical trials looking at its benefits in people.32

In one randomized, double-blind study of 40 individuals, curcumin or a placebo was given in three divided doses daily for six weeks—with demonstrated significant improvement joint function.33 Another study was an eight-month clinical trial with 50 volunteers showed that curcumin promotes healthy range of motion and activity.34

A review that evaluated eight different studies on curcumin for joint health and found that 8-12 weeks of taking turmeric significantly promoted healthy joints.35

Curcumin also supports muscle health. In a study of both a low (50 mg) and higher (200 mg) dose of curcumin in 59 healthy, active young adults.36 This eight-week study measured blood levels of creatine kinase (CK), a marker of muscle damage, before and after downhill running. Both the lower and higher doses of curcumin significantly reduced CK, but the nutrient also significantly improved exercise recovery. Another study, published in 2020, examined 19 males after exercise and found that curcumin supported healthy inflammation and promoted faster exercise recovery.37

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14Bromelain Monograph, Alternative Medicine Review. 2010 (15):4. pp. 362-368.

15Kasemsuk T, Saengpetch N, Sibmooh N et al.. 2016;35(10):2531-2540.

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17Prasad S et al CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chap 13.

18Nelson KM, Dahlin JL, Bisson J et al. 2017;60(5):1620-1637. 

19He Y, Yue Y, Zheng X et al.  2015;20(5):9183-9213.

20Panahi Y, Rahimnia AR, Sharafi M, et al. 2014;28(11):1625-31. 

21Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, Dugall M, et al. 2010;52:55-62.

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