If you are somebody who is
concerned with taking care of your joints, you have probably come across the
mention of glucosamine and chondroitin, two over-the-counter supplements
believed to fight the progression of osteoarthritis, especially knee pain. But does
it really work?
As an athlete, I have discussed, experienced, and obsessed over knee pain on
more than one occasion, and when that pain hits, it is easy to wish for a
miracle pill to make it go away. After talking with fellow athletes and fitness
fanatics, many of them boast the positive effects of glucosamine and
chondroitin. So I've decided to do some research to see what I can discover
about these supplements. Here is what I have found:
What are Glucosamine and Chondroitin?
Glucosamine and chondroitin are
both found naturally in the human body. Glucosamine
is made from glucose and the amino acid glutamine. Glucosamine is needed to
produce glycosaminoglycan, a molecule used in the formation and repair of cartilage
and other body tissues. Chondroitin sulfate is a molecule naturally present in cartilage.
Chondroitin is what gives cartilage elasticity and is believed to prevent the
destruction of cartilage by enzymes.
When sold as supplements, glucosamine
comes from the exo-skeleton, of shellfish, and chondroitin comes from cow or
shark cartilage. It is claimed that both of these supplements promote healing
of the articular cartilage in joints. The wearing away of this cartilage is
what causes the pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis.
Why does knee cartilage wear out?
Genetics. Exactly how much heredity or genetics contributes to the cause of
arthritis is not well understood. However, there are likely genetic variations
that can contribute to the cause of arthritis.
becomes more brittle with age and has less capability to repair itself. As
people grow older they are more likely to develop arthritis.
Weight. Joint damage is partly dependent on the weight the joint has to support. Therefore, excess
body weight can lead to arthritis.
Previous Injury. Joint damage can cause irregularities in the smooth joint
surface. Previous major injuries can be part of the cause of arthritis.
Occupational Demands. Workers in some specific occupations seem to have a higher risk of
developing arthritis than other jobs. These are usually jobs that demand physical labor.
High-Level Sports. While sports may not be directly linked to arthritis, sports participation can lead
to joint injury and eventually arthritis.
Have there been studies to support Glucosamine and Chondroitin's
benefits? What have they found?
After taking a look through a
number of studies observing the effects of glucosamine on osteoarthritis, it
seems to me that there is some evidence to support the benefits of the
supplement, but it it not overwhelmingly so.
There was a study published in Archives of Internal Medicine that examined
people with osteoarthritis over a three year period. Researchers assessed pain
and structural improvements seen on x-ray at the beginning and end of the study.
They gave 202 people with mild to moderate osteoarthritis either 1,500 mg of
glucosamine sulfate a day or a placebo.
At the end of the study,
researchers found that glucosamine slowed the progression of knee
osteoarthritis compared to the placebo. People in the glucosamine group had a
significant reduction in pain and stiffness. However, on x-ray, there was no
average change or narrowing of joint spaces in the knees (a sign of deterioration)
of the glucosamine group. Yet, joint spaces of participants taking the placebo
narrowed over the three years.
In another study called GAIT,
sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, researchers compared the
effectiveness of glucosamine hydrochloride (HCL), chondroitin sulfate, a
combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, the drug celecoxib
(Celebrex), and a placebo in people with knee osteoarthritis.
The study found that glucosamine or chondroitin alone
or in combination didn't reduce pain in the overall group, although people in
the study with moderate-to-severe knee pain were more likely to respond to
Should You Go for Glucosamine?
After doing this research, I have come to the conclusion that the use of glucosamine and/or chondroitin supplements is something that may be beneficial on a person-to-person basis. If you have temporary joint pain, glucosamine and chondroitin may be able to help ease the pain. However, it is important to use the supplements regularly for two to three months because they are slow-acting supplements.