Green-lipped mussel is a nutritional supplement taken from a type of mussel called perna canaliculus which is native to New Zealand. The joint healing properties of green-lipped mussels were first noticed more than 100 years ago by Maoris in New Zealand. Archaeological digs show evidence of shells buried in rubbish heaps created by the earliest New Zealanders. It's name owes itself to the edges where the two shells meet which have a green colour, giving them a visible resemblance to green lips.
The Maori phenomenon
It was actually a search for ways to naturally treat cancer that led scientists to the mussels, way back in the 1960's. NASA began a comprehensive search of marine organisms, including shell fish, in an attempt to isolate possible natural drugs. The green lipped mussel was examined but it didn't produce any discernible results when tested on human cancer patients. However by chance it was found the patients who were also suffering from arthritis did report decreased pain and joint stiffness, along with increased mobility.
A study into the life of Maoris who are the indigenous people of New Zealand, showed that even in the elderly people who were over 70 years old, they were still able to move around freely and showed no signs of arthritis. They displayed impressive agility even being able to undertake physically demanding activities defiant of the age. Research has shown this is likely attributed to the green-lipped mussels which were a large part of their daily diets.
How does it work?
We don’t fully understand how it works, but we know green-lipped mussel extract contains omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, minerals and carbohydrates. Clinical trials have shown that omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and are important for maintaining joint cell structure and function. It is believed this explains how and why green-lipped mussel works in some people. The capsules also contain hyaluronic acid and glycosaminoglycans which help lubricate joints in the body.
There is now good evidence this kind of supplementation helps people with mild to moderate osteoarthritis, although it's unlikely to be effective for patients with severe joint problems. It is not effective for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
Green-lipped mussel trials for osteoarthritis
In clinical trials green-lipped mussel was found to be more effective than a placebo in reducing pain, improving function and improving overall quality of life when taken along with usual painkillers (for example paracetamol) and NSAIDs.
Is it safe?
Green-lipped mussel is generally well tolerated, although digestive discomfort e.g. nausea and flatulence have occasionally been reported. The green-lipped mussel is a shellfish, so of course, if you’re allergic to seafood, it’s not going to be a good option for you. Interactions with other medicines haven’t been well studied, but you should be cautious about taking it with affect anticoagulants because it may affect these.
Read more at Arthritis Research UK.