For many of us in the nutrition industry, the simple mention of the term “joint health” conjures up images of tried and true dietary supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin. Numerous research studies show their ability to help rebuild and repair joint cartilage to keep joints healthy and flexible.

What you might not be familiar with, however, is that having a healthy joint involves a great deal more than just healthy cartilage, because joints are actually complex systems involving bones, ligaments, tendons and blood vessels—and all of these structures need to be maintained in a state of healthy turnover (balance between buildup/breakdown) if we want to stay mobile and flexible as we age.

See Building better joint health supplements

There seems to be a growing trend across the industry for joint-health products to address multiple aspects of optimal joint function, including providing direct cartilage building blocks (e.g., glucosamine), but also by providing antioxidant and circulation-enhancing phytonutrients, naturally balancing the body’s inflammatory process, and even stimulating the body’s “house-keeping” processes to enhance cleanup of cellular debris.

The market needs solutions for inflammation

Right now, there are approximately 30 million Americans with osteoporosis, 50 million with arthritis and well over 100 million who suffer a sports-related injury each year. Overall, about one-eighth of the U.S. population suffers from some variety of chronic pain—and about 80 percent of the adult population will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. Back pain stands as the third most-common reason for a visit to the doctor and the leading cause of activity limitation in adults under the age of 50.

As the U.S. population ages, the total number of people with disability or functional impairment related to their bones and joints is expected to skyrocket. At this writing, more than 70 percent of the elderly suffer from some form of osteoarthritis of the knee joint. Over the next 10-20 years, an estimated 250 million people will be affected by joint and bone issues and millions more will lose some degree of flexibility and mobility to other connective tissue ailments.

Sobering statistics to be sure, but when considered in light of the dramatic increase in active lifestyles and sports participation among older Americans (up nearly 60 percent since 1990), it is clear that many people are not quite ready to accept these “inevitable consequences of aging” as part of their future.

Here's what natural product formulators and marketers need to understand about inflammation for joint health.