Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition caused by the breakdown of cartilage in one or more joints. A major component of healthy cartilage is glucosamine. Glucosamine is also found in the synovial fluid that helps lubricate and cushion the spaces between joints.
Can glucosamine supplement help treat osteoarthritis?
There is no evidence that glucosamine supplements can rebuild cartilage as some manufacturers claim. But, don’t be too quick to toss that bottle of Joint Juice, or glucosamine tablets just yet. There are a growing number of studies indicating that daily use of glucosamine sulfate may help relieve symptoms associated with mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis.
According to studies reported in the New England Journal of Medicine and elsewhere, there is growing evidence that use of glucosamine supplements does well in providing relief from knee and joint pain for mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis by reducing inflammation and promotes improved joint function.
The use of glucosamine can help lessen symptoms and may help protect against the development of osteoarthritis in individuals at risk.
All Glucosamine Supplements Not Equal
When choosing a glucosamine supplement, check labels to be sure it contains glucosamine sulfate.
Most of the research involves products containing glucosamine sulfate. Other glucosamine derivatives have not consistently been found to be effective in relieving pain or improving joint function. Studies using glucosamine polysulphate derivatives are conflicting or inconclusive.
Dosage and Use
Recommended dosage for glucosamine supplements are 1,500 mg a day for adults. This may be taken in divided dosages or as a once a day dose. Glucosamine supplements are not recommended for children under the age of 18.
Side Effects of Glucosamine
Most people have no problems using glucosamine supplements for 60-90 days. After that time side effects can include upset stomach, insomnia, rashes, sun sensitivity, and toughening of nails.
Less often reported symptoms may also include vomiting, heartburn, constipation, gas, or diarrhea.
Some studies also show a temporary increase in blood pressure, heart rate or palpitations in people sensitive to glucosamine.
Since it is unclear if glucosamine causes an increase in blood sugar levels, individuals being treated for diabetes should consult with their doctor and monitor their blood sugar for any changes even though early studies show glucosamine has not long term effect on A1c levels.
Glucosamine supplements are made from various shellfish including shrimp and crab. Individuals with a shellfish allergy or sensitivity to iodine should not use glucosamine supplements. There have been rare cases of an increase of asthma related attacks in individuals using glucosamine supplements if they are already being treated for or are at risk of developing asthma.
Always talk with your doctor before taking any new supplements.
There are widely marketed claims that the use of glucosamine supplements can be useful in treating a growing range of disease and conditions. Research supporting those claims is limited and conflicting.
While there is a large group of studies supporting the effectiveness of glucosamine in treating the symptoms of knee related osteoarthritis, there is also growing evidence that the supplement can also be useful in treating symptoms of osteoarthritis in other joints as well.
The usefulness of glucosamine in treating other conditions such as venous insufficiencies, diabetes, high cholesterol, inflammatory bowel disease is yet unproven and requires further research.
Glucosamine. Mayo Clinic Online.
Clegg DO, Reda DJ, Harris CL, et al. Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and the two in combination for painful knee osteoarthritis. N Engl J Med 2006 Feb 23;354(8):795-808.
Nakamura H, Masuko K, Yudoh K, et al. Effects of glucosamine administration on patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatol Int 2007 Jan;27(3):213-8.