Learn about popular arthritis pain drugs & supplements, and make the best choice of pain relief for your joint.


One major treatment goal for arthritis is to reduce the pain. Traditionally, the use of over-the-counter (OTC) pain killer has been the most convenient approach to many. These pain pills can have a variety of strength and can treat pain level from mild to severe.

While it is certainly effective, these pain drugs are also known for their nasty side effects. In certain cases, the side effects can also lead to a fatal situation. Hence, the last decade has seen a surge in the use of natural alternatives and supplements for reducing arthritis pain symptom.

More options mean more complication. It is best to get informed on the subject matter, so that you can make the best decision.

This a brief guide backed by scientific facts. Let’s explore!



Supplements are usually made from natural sources such as food or plant. On the other hand, most drugs are synthetically made from a lab.


Supplements are often considered safe until proven otherwise. Drugs, however, are considered not safe, until they are proven otherwise.

Since supplements are derived from natural sources, their safety is associated with the original ingredients. For example, if it’s derived from apple, it is no doubt safe. So, the researches taken on supplements concern no risk on health. In another word, it is safe unless proven not safe.

Vice versa, drugs are generally made in a lab. They are designed to serve a certain purpose in treating a disease. To achieve that purpose, drugs can take many forms. Due to its various forms, drugs are volatile and can carry the risk of causing side effects unless proven otherwise.


Due to their volatility and potential side effects, drugs are regulated heavily. From production to transportation to handling and to use. Pharmaceutical companies are required to work under the close supervision of multiple parties and require to cooperate with the following parties. These include organisations such as government and hospital.

Supplements, on the other hand, have very loose regulation. Most countries only regulate the labeling and brief testing of the content of each brand. This is due to it being derived from natural sources.


Arthritis pain is caused directly by inflammation of the joint. By ridding inflammation, you can reduce the pain.

Many ingredients can help with inflammation. However, the most effective way is to eliminate the presence of Cyclooxygenase (COX). COX is an enzyme that is consequential for the cause of inflammation.



Popular OTC drugs

  • Acetaminophen (Paracetamol)
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen (Advil)
  • Celecoxib (Celebrex)

These popular anti-inflammatory drugs are categorised as non-steroidal. Non-steroidal simply means it is not a steroid which is associated with very dangerous side effects.

All these drugs work by blocking COX.


Using these drugs can cause some serious adverse effects. It can result in stomach ache, cardiovascular damage and liver damage.

Aspirin users can often experience cramping and abdominal burning. In extreme conditions, it can cause gastrointestinal bleeding. The same can be said for all other drugs. Stomach-related side effects are by far the most common for these drugs. Also, certain drugs like ibuprofen can upset the stomach and cause vomiting.

Cardiovascular and blood-related problem is another serious side effect NSAID can cause. For instance, ibuprofen can cause hemorrhage. And Celebrex is primarily known for cardiovascular adverse reactions.

Lastly, acetaminophen can cause fatal liver damage. Since the use of this drug is quite prevalent, many people are lax on the use of it and are oblivious to its effects. In fact, the typical cause of liver failure is caused by acetaminophen. It is also known to be the biggest contributor to drug overdose rates. Consumption of alcohol can also enhance the toxicity of the substance, leading to fatal cases such as death.

In general, to use OTC pain drug, you need to be very cautious about the side effects it causes. It is recommended that you consult with your healthcare professional however, this can be costly. It is also recommended to keep track of your dosage regularly, and of course, check on certain food you need to avoid that can interfere with the drugs. The underlying message is that it takes a lot of time and energy to use OTC drugs, which is additional to the pain you are suffering from. This may result in an unpleasant experience when dealing with these drugs.


OTC drugs are cheap. Typically it can be purchased as low as NZD$10 and it will last for a long time. Another advantage is that they are readily available. These drugs can be bought at any pharmacies or hospitals in your local area.

Most importantly, you can always be assured that they are effective at relieving pain.


green-lipped mussel supplements

Common arthritis pain supplements

 Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSM

Glucosamine and chondroitin are the most popular joint supplements available in the market. They both work by providing the joint with substances for building cartilage. They have been thoroughly studied and strong evidences are supporting the effectiveness of them. They are mainly derived from ingredients such as shrimp shells or synthetically made in some brands.

Naturally, they occur in animal bones and cartilages, shells of shellfish and fungi. MSM, on the other hand, are mostly found from food sources such as vegetable.

All these supplements are primarily used for rebuilding cartilages. Hence they are thought to help with osteoarthritis. For anti-inflammation, in contrast, there is little evidence.


Omega-3s has long been known for its effects on a wide variety of body functions. Anti-inflammation is one of them.

Common omega-3 supplements include fish oil and flaxseed oil. The novel omega-3 source is from Ahi flower and Green-lipped mussel. Traditional source like fish oil contains EPA and DHA. Novel sources like ahi flower contain SDA, and green-lipped mussel contain ETA, in addition to EPA and DHA.

In fact, fatty acids such as omega-3 & omega-6 play a big role in inflammatory activities. Certain omega-6s are primary precursor device for turning the COX enzyme into inflammatory-causing compounds. Omega-3s, on the other hand, have been found to intervene in certain stages of the inflammation process. In other words, omega-3s and 6s are directly involved with the inflammation cycle in our body.

Standard omega-3s source such as fish oil contains EPA and DHA omega-3s. More novel sources like green-lipped mussel or ahi flower contain various kinds of unique omega-3s. These unique omega-3s also appear to have anti-inflammation effect. Some studies do specifically report that ETA in mussel oil and SDA in ahi flower have a more effective anti-inflammation effect than traditional EPA and DHA.
Learn more about green-lipped mussel 


Curcumin is the main active ingredient for turmeric supplements which are known for its ability in inhibiting inflammation. People of India have traditionally used turmeric for their joint pain since early history.

The anti-inflammatory effect of curcumin is yet to be proven and confirmed. However, clinical trials seem to have supportive evidence on the benefits of curcumin. Research shows that the potential mechanism of curcumin maybe is due to its ability to block certain hormonal messengers causing inflammation.

 Herbal alternatives

Around the world, there has been a growing population using herbal methods to relieve joint pain. Evidence is limited on this domain and there is no discovery on the mechanism of workings in those herbs.

Popular herbal alternatives are white willow bark, cat’s claw, and devil’s claw.

How does joint pain supplements compare to drugs?

In comparison to OTC drugs, it is clear that supplement alternatives for anti-inflammation have benefits. Even though there are side effects with supplements, it is only caused by overdosing, unlike OTC drugs which have many trigger points for its side effects.

The only disadvantage to supplements can be for the fact that they are not yet researched thoroughly. Supplements like omega-3 and glucosamine might have conclusive evidence, but some of them are conflicting. There is also a debate on what methods these researches use. Overall, there is a lack of proper understanding of these novel compounds. In turn, the effect can vary greatly, based on dosing, lifestyle, diet, etc.

Economic factors can be a concern. OTC drugs can be much cheaper to obtain.

There is now a growing number of healthcare professionals supporting the use of supplements. Some see it as an aid to patients who are intolerance to common drugs. Some, on the other hand, see it as an effective mean of pain treatment.

With time, we may see joint supplement getting more attention and outweighing the use of traditional drugs. This will result in more supply, meaning that it will be more readily available and the price will also be competitive to the traditional drugs.


The preference in solution to joint pain boils down to an individual’s choice. Both traditional drugs and supplements show great results in relieving pain. However, It is always a good practice to talk with your healthcare professional before taking any non-prescription drugs or supplements.

For people who are conscious of price, it makes more sense to consume OTC drugs. This, however, is followed by having more exposure to the risk of side effects.

For people who want to minimise the risk of side effects, natural supplements can be of a good option.

Through trial and error, one can figure out what is the for him/her. At the end of the day, it is up to an individual to determine what works best for them.

Materials used to assist in writing this article

 Sostres, C., Gargallo, C. J., Arroyo, M. T., & Lanas, A. (2010). Adverse effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, aspirin and coxibs) on upper gastrointestinal tract. Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology, 24(2), 121-132. doi:10.1016/j.bpg.2009.11.005

 Kuel, F. A., Jr., & Egan, R. W. (1980). Prostaglandins, arachidonic acid, and inflammation. Science, 210(4473), 978-984. doi:DOI: 10.1126/science.6254151

 Azab, A., Nassar, A., & Azab, A. N. (2016). Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Natural Products. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 21(10), 1321. doi:10.3390/molecules21101321

 Simon L. S. (2013). Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and their risk: a story still in development. Arthritis research & therapy, 15 Suppl 3 (Suppl 3), S1. doi:10.1186/ar4173

 Jacob, A., Wu, R., Zhou, M., & Wang, P. (2008). Mechanism of the Anti-inflammatory Effect of Curcumin: PPAR-gamma Activation. PPAR research, 2007, 89369. doi:10.1155/2007/89369

 Does Glucosamine Really Work? (n.d.). Retrieved from

 Drugs vs. Supplements: What's the Difference? (2016, September 10). Retrieved from