Joint health supplements are becoming increasingly popular, with consumer demand for these products leading to a wave of innovation. As legacy ingredients fall out of favor, a flurry of research into newer ingredients has caught the attention of consumers. In fact, the joint health market is a dominant force among nutritional supplements, reaching an impressive $10.8 billion globally in 2021, says Lindsey Toth, director of global marketing for capsules and health ingredients at Lonza (Basel, Switzerland).
Consumers have adopted massively sedentary lifestyles during the COVID-19 pandemic, Toth explains, which has contributed to the increased prevalence of weight gain and joint stiffness. As consumers are eager to get out of the pandemic and get moving again, demand for joint health products is now at an all-time high, she says. Here are some of the current innovations in joint health ingredients that aim to meet the unprecedented demand for proven products.
Collagen restores function, relieves pain
Recent research shows that collagen—both by itself as a single-ingredient product and when included in blends—has a powerful effect on joint function.
A 2022 study1 Lonza conducted a study of the effects of Lonza brand UC-II, an undenatured type II collagen ingredient, on knee flexion and extension range of motion in healthy subjects aged 20 to 55 years with activity-related joint discomfort. Subjects received either 40 mg of UC-II per day or placebo for 24 weeks. At the end of the study, subjects who received the UC-II showed a 3.23 degree increase in flexion range of motion and a 2.21 degree increase in extension range of motion. These increases were statistically significant. Subgroup analysis found that subjects over the age of 35 showed an even greater increase.
Toth says a 3-degree increase in knee range of motion represents more than a decade of joint function recovery. She also explains that in this study, UC-II worked 15 times better than placebo.
Collagen also shows efficacy when included in blends. One post-marketing surveillance study2— a single-arm, open-label, observational pilot study — evaluated the efficacy of a product called AflaB2 in 40 male and female outpatients with osteoarthritis of the knee. AflaB2 is a compound of the brand Laila Nutraceuticals (India). Boswellia serrata collagen extract Collavant n2 type II of Aflapin and Bioiberica (Spain).
All patients in the study received a once-daily dose of an oral solution containing 40 mg collagen type II and 100 mg Boswellia seratextract. Subjects remained on protocol for three months and were assessed for visual analog scale (VAS) pain scores and Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) scores on days 0, 5, 15, 30, 60 and 90. After 90 days, subjects showed a 73% reduction in VAS scores and a 76% reduction in WOMAC total scores.
This study showed that collagen can be more effective when included in blends with herbal ingredients, says Jaume Reguant, Health Director at Bioiberica. Reguant notes that in the AflaB2 study, researchers saw a significant reduction in VAS pain starting on the fifth day of the study.
“On its own, the benefits of natural type II collagen are usually seen after one or two months,” Reguant says. “However, this study suggests that when used in combination with Boswellia serrata, results may come faster.”
“One of the most exciting developments in joint health right now is exploring how we can take the efficacy of ingredients to the next level with unique and powerful combinations,” he states.
Curcumin relieves inflammation, dispersion improves absorption
Curcumin (turmeric long) is an effective multimodal ingredient for use in joint health formulations, but the ingredient’s poor absorption profile has historically limited its potential. The issue is worth addressing as curcumin has been shown to be a valuable ingredient for joint health.
Curcumin exerts anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and pro-apoptotic effects on several biological systems, says Maggie McNamara, director of marketing for Gencor (Irvine, Calif.). The ingredient may also reduce the production of inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins by modifying the signaling of the COX-2 pathway.
Although curcumin is a challenging ingredient to formulate, suppliers have focused for years on innovating new forms of more bioavailable ingredients. “The main factor limiting the use of curcumin as a therapeutic agent is its poor oral absorption,” says McNamara. She notes that Gencor’s branded HydroCurc ingredient combines curcumin and LipiSperse technology designed to “increase the bioavailability and functionality of lipophilic actives.”
A recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial evaluated the efficacy of 500 mg/day of Gencor’s HydroCurc for morning joint pain over two weeks. This study, which was accepted by an academic journal and is yet to be published, found that HydroCurc was effective in reducing joint pain. HydroCurc demonstrated statistically significant efficacy over baseline starting at day 5. The compound also showed a significant difference over placebo starting at day 11.
Curcuma longa’s joint health benefits may be due to calebin A, a curcuminoid compound and curcumin analog with anti-inflammatory properties, a company has found.
Muhammad Majeed, MD, founder and chairman of the Sami-Sabinsa Group (East Windsor, NJ), says calebin A works to inhibit inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-6, TNF-alpha, and interferon-gamma. Majeed notes that studies have also found that calebin A inhibits osteoclast production, indicating an osteoprotective effect. one IVF study3 conducted by Sabinsa and the University of Texas (Houston) found that calebin A suppressed osteoclast production in cancer cells isolated from mice.
“Osteoclasts are responsible for breaking down bone,” says Majid, who co-authored the study. “[This study demonstrated that] calebin A kills cells that destroy bone.
In March 2022, Sabinsa launched its branded ingredient CurCousin, a nature-identical synthetic ingredient calebin A standardized to 98% concentration. Sabinsa holds 13 patents for calebin A for the protection of articular cartilage, with two more patents pending and three patents as a therapeutic for osteoporosis.
Fast acting ingredients on the rise
Botanicals continue to dominate the joint health market. As consumers become more sedentary and demand for a joint health ingredient increases, traditional joint health supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin are unable to meet consumer expectations, says Dr. Shalini Srivastava, director of clinical development of contract research organization Vedic Lifesciences (India). Meanwhile, diversification within the consumer base also divides demand between vegan and non-vegan options.
The result? “Fast-acting ingredients are appreciated,” says Srivastava. “Demand for plant-based products has increased with the rise of the vegan trend, while eggshell membrane meets the needs of omnivores.”
The Common Health Market offers flexibility
Joint health ingredients are experiencing renewed interest as consumers look for validated products that can help support an active lifestyle. While more traditional ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin fall out of favor, newer ingredients like curcumin and collagen continue to receive solid research investment and a receptive consumer audience. Formulators have plenty of room to experiment with new ingredient combinations, allowing brands to capitalize on consumer demand for unique and effective products.
- Schoen C et al. “UC-II Undenatured Collagen Type II for Knee Flexibility: A Multicenter, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.” Journal of Integrative and Complementary Medicine, Vol. 28, no. 6 (June 2022): 540-548
- Jain AV et al. “AflaB2 and Osteoarthritis: A Multicenter, Observational, Postmarketing Surveillance Study in Indian Patients Suffering from Osteoarthritis of the Knee.” International Journal of Research in Orthopedics, Vol. 7, no. 1 (January 2021): 110-115
- Tyagi AK et al. “Calebin A reduces osteoclastogenesis by suppressing RANKL signaling.” Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Vol. 593 (March 2016): 80-89
- Krieger K. “Cartilage repair in damaged knee approaches arthritis relief.” UConn today. Published online on January 12, 2022.