For every disease, it seems as though there are a thousand remedies being touted as the end-all cure. Osteoarthritis is not immune from these self-proclaimed internet "experts;" as a result, there are countless articles listing possible ways to alleviate your OA symptoms. One popular recommendation is collagen, specifically in the form of supplements. Collagen backers claim to have seen results that anyone suffering from OA would do just about anything to achieve, but how can you trust that their claims hold any actual truth?

Supplementing with collagen and collagen peptides may be helpful in managing symptoms of arthritis, according to those suffering from the disease, but experts vary in their opinions on collagen as an arthritis treatment. More research and data on its effectiveness is needed to be absolutely sure. 

Collagen protein powder scoop and a glass of water. Food beauty and health supplementWhat is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is categorized by the wearing down or dissipation of protective cartilage between bones. You may have heard this referred to as a joint being "bone on bone," meaning there is not enough cushion between bones. OA most commonly affects the hands, feet, knees, hips, and spine. Experts attribute the progression of the disease to wear and tear. 

Symptoms of OA include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Loss of flexibility
  • Grating sensation
  • Swelling and inflammation

How is OA treated?

Preventing OA can involve staying active, managing your weight, and even taking supplements, though the research on the latter is varied (more on that later). Unfortunately, once that protective cartilage is gone, there is no way to get it back. OA is usually confirmed through physical examination by a professional, x-rays, and advanced imaging like MRI. Once the condition has been diagnosed, there are several options for treating it and managing your symptoms:

  1. Movement and activity. It may seem difficult, but getting in as much movement as you can has been shown to improve OA symptoms and outcomes.
  2. Medication. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is one option for managing OA symptoms, though long-term use can cause issues with your other bodily symptoms like your liver and kidneys. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) are another option. Surprisingly, the antidepressant Duloxetine is also used to treat the chronic pain associated with arthritis.
  3. Therapy. Physical therapy and occupational therapy can be extremely helpful tools in managing symptoms, regaining flexibility, and more. Additionally, psychotherapy may be helpful as well. Hear me out: arthritis is a degenerative and extremely painful condition, and chronic pain takes a mental toll. Taking care of your mental health will leave you feeling more equipped to handle your physical health. 
  4. Trantranscutaneous electrical nerve stimulator. Also called TENS, this device sends electrical pulses through a specific target point in the body, alerting your body's natural healing mechanisms to kick into high gear. 
  5. Injections. Corticosteroid (cortisone) shots are widely accepted as a suitable treatment to manage OA pain. Lubrication injections lack adequate research, with patients claiming they've found relief and medical professionals citing the placebo effect. 
  6. Joint replacement. Replacing a knee, hip, ankle, or wrist joint is not ideal, but it can be the final step in relieving OA symptoms for good. 
  7. Shoe inserts. Custom orthotics can work similarly to PT, training your body to walk in alignment as well as offering cushion and support for your feet, ankles, and entire body. 

Other alternative medicine practices are widely used by OA patients across the world in addition to the list above. Using topical pain relief solutions (like Biofreeze), acupuncture, and even yoga and Tai Chi have been recommended by those suffering from osteoarthritis. 

The difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritisdoctor writing notes, foot bones replica on her desk next to orange pill bottles

According to an article by UCF Health: "RA (a systemic disease) is caused by an autoimmune response, and OA (a degenerative disease) is caused by years of natural wear-and-tear." 

Treating RA and OA, respectively, involves completely different methods and modalities. When suffering from RA, patients even see a different type of specialist called a rheumatologist. For the purposes of this article, I have focused only on OA.

What is Collagen?

When you think of collagen, you probably think of a cow first. You've likely seen ads, some even including Jennifer Aniston and other celebrities, using bovine (cow)-derived collagen supplements in everything from smoothies to skincare. Did you know that you actually have collagen in your body, too? Collagen in the human body offers support to connective tissues, cartilage, bones, skin, tendons, ligaments, and more. It offers elasticity to your skin, strength to your bones, stretchiness to your tendons, and more. The collagen in our bodies, and the amount of it, can even determine how well and how quickly we recover from an injury.  

collagen-rich foods - salmon, citrus, leafy greens, peppers, berries, and moreCollagen Supplementation for Joint Pain & More

Supplementation is meant as just that: supplementation. Does that sound redundant? Let me explain.

Say for example, that you are a vegetarian. Your doctor may recommend that you supplement B-12 because you are laking it in your diet. First and foremost, we can get collagen from our diets and, more specifically, alter our diets to support our body's production of collagen. 

That's right, folks, no need to drink a gallon of bone broth every day (though bone broth is very rich in collagen and plenty of other beneficial micronutrients). Here's a little collagen-production grocery list for you:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Leafy greens (the darker the better!)
  • Berries
  • Chicken and fish
  • Eggs
  • Beans

In terms of collagen supplements, a study on PubMed titled "Effect of collagen supplementation on osteoarthritis symptoms: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials" shows encouraging results. Researchers looked over data of OA patients taking orally administered collagen and OA patients taking a placebo and used the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) to come to their conclusion. The results showed that patients taking collagen had a decreased WOMAC score, meaning their symptoms had improved more than the patients taking the placebo.

If you desire further supplementation, you may consider looking into a collagen powder. This collagen available on Amazon claims to assist with post-workout recovery, skin elasticity and general health, and joint support. 

Conclusion: Should You Be Taking Collagen?

Here is the basic answer: it won't hurt, and if you suffer from OA, you know that everything has a tendency to hurt. Is it the absolute best, must-try, cure-all treatment for OA? Not even close. If you have the extra $20 (or, for some fancier collagen brands, closer to $70) to spend on collagen powder every month, go for it. But until more data can be obtained about collagen's long-term efficacy in OA treatment, focusing on a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet on top of following your doctor's recommendations will do just fine. 

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