Research is underway to determine the efficacy of glucosamine and chondroitin in comparison to placebo. The evidence is conflicting, but glucosamine and chondroitin may provide some pain relief for knee osteoarthritis in some individuals. According to some studies, it may relieve osteoarthritis pain in the same way that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) do. However, researchers believe that while these supplements could be effective as a preventative measure, they should not be used for the long term.
- These supplements have been shown in studies to be effective in slowing cartilage degeneration and improving joint health in the knees. However, this only works if people take a very high dose for an extended period.
- According to research, these supplements are completely safe, but they may or may not provide the desired results.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin supplement is not recommended by the American College of Rheumatology, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery and Osteoarthritis Evidence Society International guidelines despite all the research.
- They are classified as supplements and not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so patients should be aware of this. Safety and efficacy have not been evaluated, and their production is not governed by Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), which is a set of FDA requirements to ensure quality.
Although the medical literature in support of glucosamine and chondroitin is cautiously positive, some observers are concerned that many of the studies were funded by supplement manufacturers. Combining chondroitin and glucosamine may work better than either taken alone. These two ingredients are frequently found together in a single supplement.
What are glucosamine and chondroitin made up of?
Glucosamine and chondroitin are cartilage components that the body naturally produces. By supplementing the cartilage tissue, discomfort and swelling in the joints that are most prone to be affected by osteoarthritis can be lessened. Also, this can prevent the breakdown of connective tissues.
Chondroitin is derived from the cartilage of cow tracheas, whereas glucosamine is derived from shellfish shells (crabs, lobsters and shrimps). Their chemical composition is similar to cartilage molecules, and their manufacturers claim that they help worn cartilage. However, medical experts and researchers are skeptical about their benefits.
How do glucosamine and chondroitin work?
Chondroitin and glucosamine are thought to be chondroprotective (which means they might stop the pain and the progression of arthritis). In addition to glucosamine, chondroitin helps pull water and nutrients into the cartilage, maintaining its elasticity.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin have been shown to inhibit cartilage breakdown, reducing joint discomfort and promoting healthy joints in studies.
- They also help maintain cartilage structure, since glucosamine and chondroitin contain anti-inflammatory qualities that can help minimize cartilage degeneration and pain in the joints.
To summarize, when these supplements are taken together, they do the following:
- Maintain and promote joint health
- Assist in the relief of mild to moderate joint pain
- Assist in the growth and production of healthy joint cartilage
What are the possible side effects of taking glucosamine and chondroitin?
The typical daily dose is 1,500 mg of glucosamine and 1,200 mg of chondroitin sulfate, either all at once or in divided doses. For heavier individuals, this can be increased to 2,000 mg of glucosamine and 1,600 mg of chondroitin.
The effects of glucosamine and chondroitin may not be noticeable for at least six to eight weeks, and their benefits become apparent in about four to six months. If no benefit is seen after six months, the supplement should be discontinued.
Common side effects
- Skin rashes
- Allergic reactions
- Hair loss
- Abdominal bloating
- Weight gain
Serious side effects (often rare)
- Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease is a progressive neurological disease) is a theoretical risk
- Increase in intraocular pressure (reversible condition)
- Worsening of preexisting diseases (diabetes, respiratory and liver diseases)
- Severe allergic reaction due to their shellfish content
The following groups may want to avoid these supplements:
- People with uncontrolled diabetes
- Patients with respiratory and liver diseases
- People with seafood and shellfish allergy
- Children and pregnant women
- People on blood thinners
- People suffering from increased eye pressure and glaucoma
Doctors may not support or refute the use of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate until scientific, prospective, randomized studies are conducted to demonstrate and prove that these drugs are both safe and effective.
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National Institutes of Health. Glucosamine and Chondroitin for Osteoarthritis. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/glucosamine-and-chondroitin-for-osteoarthritis
Michigan Medicine. Glucosamine and Chondroitin. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/aa59277spec
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