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Glucosamine & Chondroitin Facts

Chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine are popular supplements that are used to treat the pain and loss of function associated with arthritis and osteoarthritis. They are safe to try, and provide several benefits compared with prescription pain medication. 

Chondroitin is a major component of cartilage that helps it retain water. It is produced by the body naturally. For the production of supplements, it can be manufactured from the cartilage of animals, such as cows, pigs, or sharks, and can be made in the laboratory. The supplement is sold as chondroitin sulfate and is often combined with a glucosamine supplement. 

Glucosamine is a natural compound found in healthy cartilage, particularly in the fluid around the joints. It is needed to produce glycosaminoglycan, a molecule used in the formation and repair of cartilage and other body tissues. For dietary supplements, it is harvested from the shells of shellfish, or can be made in the laboratory. It can come in several chemical forms, but the one most used in arthritis patients is glucosamine sulfate. In lab tests, glucosamine showed anti-inflammatory properties and even appeared to help cartilage regulation. 

Use for Osteoarthritis

Since production of glucosamine slows with age, some people choose to use glucosamine supplements to fight age-related health conditions, such as osteoarthritis. Taking glucosamine as a nutritional supplement is shown to keep osteoarthritis in check by restoring the body's glucosamine supply and repairing damaged cartilage. 

Glucosamine and chondroitin work together, as the chondroitin gives cartilage elasticity and is believed to prevent the destruction of cartilage by enzymes. 


In alternative and holistic medicine, proponents claim that glucosamine may help with the following health problems:

The Science of Glucosamine

Osteoarthritis: Glucosamine may be a benefit in the treatment of osteoarthritis - especially osteoarthritis of the knee, according to the National Institutes of Health. Glucosamine may reduce pain and improve functioning in people with osteoarthritis, as it slows down the progression and reduced pain and stiffness - particularly within the knee.

When x-rays were taken of patients who had knee osteoarthritis, after taking glucosamine, the x-rays revealed that there were no overall changes or narrowing of joint spaces in the knees. In contrast, those patients with knee osteoarthritis who were taking medication, x-rays continued to show deterioration within the knee.

One of the largest studies on glucosamine for osteoarthritis was a 6 month study that was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, in 2006. This study was called GAIT, and it compared the effectiveness of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin, the drug Celecoxib, or a placebo in people with knee osteoarthritis.

The report found that people with moderate to severe knee pain were more likely to respond to glucosamine and chondroitin to relieve their joint pain and stiffness.

The Bottom Line?

Chondroitin and glucosamine supplements alone or in combination may not work for everyone with osteoarthritis. However, people who take these supplements and have seen improvements with them shouldn't stop taking them. Both supplements are safe to take long term.

The differences in the effectiveness of chondroitin may also be caused by variations in dosing and quality of the supplements. The chondroitin content between different brands can vary, and the same goes for glucosamine supplements.


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