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Does Glucosamine and Chondroitin Work?

Updated on July 17, 2012

Those seeking relief from pain and degenerative effects of osteoarthritis usually don’t want to hear their physician’s first recommendations…weight control, exercise, proper use of medications and joint protection. Many tend to ignore this advice and turn to what may seem to be quicker and easier treatments like glucosamine and chondroitin supplements. However, as old and tired as the former prescription may be, the medical community still generally agrees it’s the best remedy.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. Simply put, it’s a condition where normal smooth cartilage surfaces of the joints experience wear and tear. Symptoms can include joint pain, swelling and deformity.

Over the last several decades there has been much debate concerning these two supplements. One study involving over 350 patients taking chondroitin during a three month period indicated a reduction in pain symptoms. Similar long-term studies with glucosamine also showed encouraging results.On the other hand some studies have shown no benefit with either.

That being said, although test findings seemed positive in some studies the results haven’t been conclusive enough to classify them as a primary means of conventional treatment. Many doctors are still skeptical since certain brands of glucosamine or chondroitin could be of questionable quality and more long term research is needed.

The theory behind these joint supplement treatments is the hypothesis oral consumption of glucosamine and chondroitin may increase the rate of formation of new cartilage thereby repairing it. While an interesting theory, it hasn’t been proven. It’s also interesting to know, chondroitin and glucosamine are used in veterinary medicine.

But, no one can argue the fact many have claimed to have experienced pain relief. In most cases the improvement experienced by these patients was similar to that of patients taking nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). The big difference is NSAIDs are known to have an increased risk of side effects such as gastrointestinal complaints and bleeding. Additionally, there have been recent developments suggesting they may hasten the progression of arthritis. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is another supplement used for arthritis pain, but it has not been subjected to nearly as much research.

However, glucosamine and chondroitin aren’t without their critics. Glucosamine sold as a supplement is extracted from animal tissue, specifically crab, lobster, or shrimp shells. And as everyone knows some people are allergic to shellfish. Although it’s certain proteins in shellfish they are actually allergic to, not chitin. Chitin is a carbohydrate from which glucosamine is extracted, but it’s still wise to consult a doctor. Chondroitin is extracted from shark fins.

Another problem is the dietary supplement industry is loosely regulated and some may experience side effects. The quality of glucosamine products can vary with manufacturers. Tests have shown unscrupulous producers sell products that don’t always contain the amounts indicated on the label.

Common side effects associated with glucosamine can include:

· Stomach problems

· Drowsiness

· Insomnia

· Headache

· Skin reactions

· Photosensitivity

· Hardening of the nails

It should also be noted glucosamine can cause blood pressure and heart rate to temporarily increase as well as causing palpitations. Animal research has also suggested glucosamine can possibly increase insulin resistance, a major cause of diabetes, although no substantiating proof has been shown. It may also increase the risk of bleeding in certain patients. So, patients on blood-thinning medications should consult a physician if planning to use these products.

So far no study has found any serious side effects from either glucosamine or chondroitin. But, consumer watchdogs say tests on chondroitin show it to be useless and there are conflicting reports as to whether glucosamine is beneficial. In view of this information, competent medical advice should be sought before beginning any daily regimen with either.

Furthermore, the effects of these supplements on children, developing babies and pregnancy are still inconclusive. And patients with other health conditions should note some prescription medications may interact with dietary supplements.


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    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Thanks Avian. I overlooked putting that in.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Chondroitin is extracted from shark fins. The fins are cuts from the sharks in Japan, and they are left to drown.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Good point. It took a while to put together since my arthritic hands slowed my typing. :-)

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      This is a very good question, and the debate continues. Many doctors will not prescribe anything that is not FDA approved for a certain condition. It's a legal and protective decision, they don't want to be sued. I just think if it works for you great, but if it doesn't, move on. Great hub! I am so glad you put this together so well.