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How Chondroitin & Glucosamine help arthritis

Updated on December 5, 2012

Common Methods

There are very many forms of arthritis that affect millions of people worldwide and one of the primary symptoms and a major cause for complaint for many sufferers is constant joint pain. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis which can be typically caused by joint trauma, normal wear and tear, or joint infections.

The problem with arthritis and particularly osteoarthritis, is that there is no cure for the condition, but there are ways of dealing with the pain. These include lifestyle change, Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy and medication.

1. Lifestyle change – isn’t always the easiest thing to accomplish. We all get used to the lifestyle we lead and so when it comes to weight control, effective exercise and diet change, things can become a little difficult. However, these are all changes that can be highly beneficial and if you don’t like counting carbs, then something like the Paleo or Caveman Diet would be good, because it concentrates on the intake of the right kinds of food rather than the right amount of calories.

2. Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy – is beneficial in a number of ways. Physical exercise can keep the joint healthy whilst decreasing pain and improving the joint’s functionality. Occupational Therapy can help with identifying the correct equipment needed for tasks and the level of assistance available.

3. Diet – is crucial for a healthy lifestyle regardless of whether or not you are suffering from arthritis. However, it has been found that certain foods are able to reduce pain and inflammation and thereby slow down the progression of arthritis. These are foods rich in Omega-3 such as oily fish, some nuts and seeds and some cereals. To counter the onset of osteoporosis, foods that contain calcium and Vitamin D are what to look for.

4. Medication – for arthritis is primarily targeted at tackling the pain and therefore an anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen or an analgesic like Paracetemol are quite often prescribed.

Other Methods

There are some other methods of tackling the problems related to arthritis and two of the most popular substances to surface are Chondroitin and Glucosamine and each of these tackles the problem in a slightly different way. Chondroitin and Glucosamine can be taken separately or in conjunction with each other.

1. Chondroitin is said to be able to actually help rebuild the cartilage and, in effect, reverse the damage done to the joint to some extent.

Chondroitin has an advantage over the conventional medications used to treat arthritis, because it is safer for long term use owing to the fact that it produces lesser side effects.

Without getting into too much complicated medical and scientific terminology, Chondroitin is a highly charged sugar, which works in the joint to resist compression through electrostatic repulsion. This provides a cushioning effect for the cartilage in the joint.

It is common for Chondroitin to be supplied as part of a combination with Glucosamine, which I will deal with a little later, but the benefits of Chondroitin on its own are as follows

a. Pain relief from osteoarthritis

b. Eases stiff joints and reduces the associated inflammation

c. Helps to improve the movement of hips and knees affected with arthritis

d. Gives extended relief to the symptoms of osteoarthritis

There are some side effects to taking Chondroitin, but they are quite rare. Common side effects usually only occur at extremely high doses and can include diarrhea, constipation and nausea. Chondroitin is considered to be a very safe supplement in the treatment of arthritis due to the low instances of side effects. However, it is not recommended that Chondroitin should be taken if you already take a drug that inhibits blood clotting, because its structure is similar and may also inhibit blood clotting itself.

Chondroitin mounts a three pronged attack at the joint affected with arthritis. It firstly reduces pain and swelling through anti-inflammatory properties. Then it helps to restructure the cartilage by encouraging the body to produce more of its own Chondroitin. Finally, it helps to prevent further damage to the affected joint by inhibiting the production of the enzymes that cause that damage.

  1. Glucosamine for arthritis, like Chondroitin, is naturally produced by the body and aids in the production of joint cartilage. It is taken as a supplement to treat arthritis.

As with Chondroitin, some side effects have been noted with Glucosamine, but they are quite rare and mild. They mainly affect the gastrointestinal system with the aforementioned diarrhea, constipation and nausea.

Because a lot of Glucosamine is derived from the shells of shellfish, people with an allergy to shellfish are advised to consult their medical practitioner before using the compound.

Glucosamine helps to treat osteoarthritis in the following ways

a. It slows down the degeneration of the cartilages within a joint.

b. It helps with the repair of cartilage.

c. It assists synovial fluid to lubricate the affected joint.

Technically, Glucosamine is an amino-sugar and is broken down when it enters the body, forming Glycosaminoglycans, which are basically the building blocks for cartilage.

It is generally believed that Glucosamine is the most effective of the arthritis supplements, with numerous studies showing it is effective in slowing down the progression of osteoarthritis and helping to prevent and relieve the symptoms of the disease.

It has been found, however, that Glucosamine is effective for some people more than others and further research will try and discover why this is the case.

It is worth noting that osteoarthritis is a long term disease and Glucosamine is a slow acting drug. Consequently, little improvement in the condition may be noticed. However, it is hard to measure the preventative effect of Glucosamine in respect of how much degeneration there would have been in the affected joint had Glucosamine not been taken.

3. Glucosamine vs Chondroitin isn’t really a contest as both treatments have certain benefits they can offer to arthritis sufferers and they are both natural compounds with very few side effects. In fact it is not uncommon to find Glucosamine and Chondroitin being used in conjunction with each other.

There has been comparatively little research into these two natural compounds and it would be necessary to conduct further and more far reaching studies in order to reach a conclusive analysis on the efficacy of these two remedies for arthritis.

Separate research into Chondroitin and Glucosamine by the University of Maryland and the University of Belgium respectively, have concluded that, in tests, both natural compounds have shown that they can be effective in treating the symptoms of osteoarthritis and, in the case of Glucosamine, reduced the pain whilst increasing the movement of joints and have shown a decrease in the amount of joint damage caused by the disease.

The GAIT study, a clinical study into Glucosamine and Chondroitin in 2006, conducted on over 1500 patients actually gave negative results, but when you look at the fact that these are considered to be slow-acting drugs, the 24 week test period may not have allowed sufficient time to reach any serious conclusions and, in fact, the results of the study caused mixed reaction amongst experts in the field.

Until more in-depth study has been carried out into the benefits of Glucosamine and Chondroitin in relation to osteoarthritis, it has been concluded that there seems to be no added benefit in combining the two together and that Glucosamine may be effective when it comes to pain relief, but there is insufficient evidence indicating that Chondroitin has any effect on osteoarthritis at all, despite the fact that some test subjects had felt some benefit from taking it.

What’s The Verdict?

The jury is out on this one, but suffice it to say that many people have taken Glucosamine and Chondroitin as dietary supplements to help combat the symptoms of their arthritis and many more will.

The fact remains, though, that these two substances occur naturally in the body in connection with joints and cartilage and despite the lack of research, many people feel the beneficial effects that they have to offer.

Because each of these natural compounds is slow acting, those people researching them should make sure that sufficient time is given to the research to make it viable.

Clearly there are exciting times ahead for these two substances and time will tell if they are a ‘hero’ or a ‘zero’ when it comes to being effective against arthritis. Once the research is done and the dust is cleared we will find out which is the most effective for helping to treat the symptoms. Previous research did highlight a small, but significant fact inasmuch that some people have already noted a marked improvement in their symptoms of osteoarthritis through prolonged use of Glucosamine and/or Chondroitin.

It has to be remembered that these are slow acting drugs and, whereas Paracetemol and Ibuprofen get to work on the pain in a relatively short period of time, they cannot perform the restorative functions that have been attributed to Glucosamine and Chondroitin.

Over the next few years maybe we will get to know whether or not Glucosamine and Chondroitin do actually work.

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    • CCahill profile image

      CCahill 5 years ago from England

      I doubt many people get the Omega 3 they need naturally from their diet