Q. My doctor recommended glucosamine for my joints, but there are so many choices! What are chondroitin supplements? What about MSM? Which one should I rely on to help me improve my mobility long term and enjoy anti-inflammatory effects without the need for prescription pain relievers?

A. It’s true, there are many choices when shopping for glucosamine. We’ll unravel the differences between glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM, but first, let’s talk about osteoarthritis (OA)—most likely the reason you’re looking for joint support to begin with.

OA is a degenerative joint disease experienced by 80 percent of adults over 50 years old, and by 70, it’s nearly universal. It’s hallmarked by the loss of cartilage (the tough connective tissue that cushions your joints), which can cause pain, stiffness, swelling and eventual loss of joint function. Most OA occurs in the knees, hips or shoulders, and often interferes with mobility.

Because OA is a progressive problem, it is important to support joints before irreversible damage is done and joint replacement becomes your last option. So cheers to your doctor for recommending joint support now!

Now, on to a breakdown of the different options and how research suggests they can help.

Glucosamine provides the natural building blocks for growth, repair and maintenance of cartilage. It also attracts water that serves the gel-like nature of joints, helping to maintain lubrication and shock absorption. Glucosamine is also a structural component to other important tissues such as tendons, ligaments, heart valves, mucous membranes, hair and nails.

But as with many bodily processes, glucosamine production decreases as we age. Studies suggest supplemental glucosamine can reduce stiffness, swelling, pain and degeneration associated with OA, as it is a key component in cartilage and joint health.

Chondroitin is also a major component of cartilage and joint health. It helps by absorbing water and providing resistance to compression. Studies show it can reduce pain, stiffness and swelling and improve joint function associated with OA. But chondroitin is not absorbed nearly as well as glucosamine and, head to head, glucosamine appears to be more effective. Nevertheless, chondroitin can be a good complement to the work your glucosamine is doing.

Methyl-sulfonyl-methane (MSM) is a biologically useful form of sulfur, the third most abundant mineral in our bodies with widespread applications throughout. Sulfur is a critical building block for cartilage, and sulfur from MSM strengthens joint tissues and helps with elasticity. Known as “nature’s beauty mineral,” MSM also improves skin health, strengthens hair and nails, and can improve detoxification, accelerate healing and increase energy.

Identifying the differences between the three can help you understand why you might want to include chondroitin and MSM in your glucosamine regimen—it can offer more comprehensive relief from arthritis pain and help improve the function of bones and joints.

Here are some recommendations for glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM supplements from top brands. Browse these options to find the best combination or individual joint health supplements for your needs and start enjoying joint pain relief today.

Glucosamine – Pharmaca Glucosamine Sulfate

Glucosamine & ChondroitinThorne Research Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Glucosamine, Chondroitin & MSMNOW Glucosamine & Chondroitin with MSM – 180 capsules

MSMJarrow Formulas MSM Powder or Pharmaca MSM