Glucosamine is a chemical that occurs naturally in the body. It has also become a popular dietary supplement in forms derived from non-human sources. Because glucosamine is one of the chemical components of cartilage, the soft part of bones, it is believed that it can relieve problems like inflammation and joint disorder like osteoarthritis.
People have been relying on glucosamine supplements to help with problems like bone and joint disorders that can be quite painful. The promise of glucosamine is that it will treat the problem with a natural supplement to the body’s own building blocks.
Rather than taking traditional pain relievers, which only treat the symptoms and do nothing for the actual conditions, glucosamine supplements are believed to replenish the body with the specific elements that eliminate, or at least reduce, the conditions.
While glucosamine is widely available and already in use, it seems likely that many people may wonder exactly what glucosamine is. How does glucosamine work? And are there any potential problems with taking glucosamine supplements?
This article will explore the facts about glucosamine and the science behind its effectiveness.
What Is Glucosamine?
Glucosamine is classified as an amino sugar. It is found in cartilage and the tough tissues at the bone joints. The glucosamine used in supplements is taken from the shells of shellfish and refined in a lab. There are several forms of glucosamine that include glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, and N-acetyl glucosamine. These are not interchangeable.
It is glucosamine sulfate that is used as an oral supplement for the treatment of painful inflammation and the breakdown of cartilage in the human body, generally as a result of osteoarthritis. Some glucosamine supplements contain other ingredients such as chondroitin sulfate, or shark cartilage.
Although glucosamine is generally taken orally, it can be used as a topical cream or salve.
Glucosamine vs. Chondroitin vs. Glutamine
Since glucosamine supplements do often contain other chemicals, it is important to get an understanding of what these other things are and how they work to increase the benefits of glucosamine supplements.
First, glucosamine sulfate, the functional ingredient in most supplements, is a primary building block for what is called proteoglycans. These are molecules that give cartilage its buffering properties, its ability to absorb stress and shock. On its own, glucosamine is absorbed readily into the system and can be measured in your own cartilage within about four hours. Glucosamine functions like a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. It has also been shown to produce cartilage in the body.
Another form of glucosamine, glucosamine hydrochloride, is considered just as effective as glucosamine sulfate. The main difference is that glucosamine hydrochloride is absorbed faster in the body. It requires a smaller does to provide the same effect. The only hitch is that there has not been as much research on glucosamine hydrochloride.
Chondroitin sulfate is also found in cartilage. It is a much larger molecule than glucosamine. Though not as well-studied as glucosamine, it has been shown to work well as an anti-inflammatory treatment. It may slow the breakdown of cartilage associated with osteoarthritis.
Glutamine is an amino acid and is one of the building blocks of proteins. In our bodies, proteins form muscles, transport essential substances in the blood, and help the immune system. The form that is found in foods and supplements is L-glutamine, although it is often listed as glutamate. L-glutamine is essential for building proteins. It is one of the most abundant amino acids in our bodies.
Glutamine has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and works as an analgesic for reducing the pain of inflammation. Taken with glucosamine, glutamine works well as an effective treatment of inflammation and symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Some glucosamine supplements come with one or both of the above ingredients. Since all three work as anti-inflammatory agents, the addition of the other ingredients are believed to add to the effectiveness of simply glucosamine supplements.
The benefits of glucosamine are well documented even though the full biological mechanism that makes it work is not completely understood. Researchers have documented the effectiveness of glucosamine, but the precise reason it accomplishes these benefits has not been fully described. Nevertheless, the benefits of glucosamine include:
An early study that tested glucosamine as an anti-inflammatory when applied to cells involved in bone formation found that it significantly reduced inflammation. It appears that glucosamine was involved in stimulating collagen formation which helps in reducing inflammation in joints and bones.
In another study that involved 200 test subjects, researchers found that glucosamine supplements led to reductions in inflammation by as much s 28 percent. Researchers were able to track two significant biochemical markers of inflammation that were drastically reduced with the use of glucosamine supplements.
We should note that the study just cited also tested supplements containing chondroitin. These supplements increased the effectiveness of glucosamine supplements by as much as 36 percent.
Supports healthy joints
The role of glucosamine in the body is as a support for the development of healthy joint tissue. Specifically, articular cartilage is the smooth tissue that covers the ends of your bones where they meet each other. Glucosamine naturally works to make this type of tissue healthy. This type of tissue works in conjunction with synovial fluid to allow bones to move easily at the joints. Glucosamine is involved in the formation of this entire mechanism.
Some studies have found that glucosamine supplements can boost these natural processes. It can help prevent the breakdown of cartilage. One study involving cyclists found that a glucosamine supplement of as much as 3 grams per day reduced collagen loss in the knees by 27 percent.
Further research found that a similar dose of glucosamine supplements (3 grams per day) reduced the ratio of collagen breakdown to collagen synthesis resulting in the maintenance of the collagen needed to sustain healthy joints.
All of these studies suggest that glucosamine supplements are effective in maintaining healthy joints by supporting the production of collagen.
Treating bone and joint disorders
Several studies have shown that a daily glucosamine supplement can offer effective and long-term treatment for osteoarthritis. Glucosamine works at reducing pain and other symptoms while it also helps to sustain the natural processes that tend to get slowed down by osteoarthritis. In short, glucosamine supplements have been proven to slow the progression of the disease.
Specifically, one study tracked over 300 adults with osteoarthritis. After six months of taking a 1500 mg supplement of glucosamine supplements, half the participants reported significant reductions in pain and improved mobility in their joints. The benefit of glucosamine supplements was deemed comparable to taking a 3-gram dose of acetaminophen.
Still, further research studied 200 people for one year. These participants took the same 1500 mg dose of glucosamine supplements. The results revealed that nearly all subjects reported improvement in their symptoms. They experienced less stiffness and pain and were able to function better.
Another study showed that glucosamine supplements were also effective in reducing the symptoms and progression of rheumatoid arthritis. These studies demonstrated that glucosamine supplements were also effective for the management of symptoms.
Still more, some preliminary research shows that glucosamine supplements may be effective in improving overall bone strength.
Other Benefits of Glucosamine
This is a condition that is caused by a deficiency of a compound called glycosaminoglycan. It is a chronic condition causing bladder pressure, bladder pain and sometimes pelvic pain. Glucosamine is a precursor chemical for the production of glycosaminoglycan. Some preliminary studies show that glucosamine supplements may work as a treatment.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
This is also partially caused by a de glycosaminoglycan. The same anti-inflammatory benefits are already known for glucosamine show promise for treating IBD.
Because glucosamine has shown such promise in treating such a wide array of conditions, it is currently being studied for its potential benefit for other serious illnesses. Perhaps most excitingly, studies have also shown a reduction of cancer mortality risk cancer by 13%, respiratory disorders by 41%, and other causes by 33% as well as lowering all-cause mortality by 18% due to glucosamine supplementation.
Glucosamine Risks & Side Effects
Glucosamine supplements are generally considered safe for most people. There are, however, some risks.
Some potential adverse reactions may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
Doctors recommend that you do not take glucosamine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding since there is insufficient research on the safety of these supplements under these conditions.
In some cases, glucosamine supplements may worsen blood sugar in people with diabetes. This is rare but it is recommended that you consult your doctor before taking glucosamine supplements if you are diabetic.
Glucosamine Supplement Dosage
The usual dose of glucosamine supplement is 1500 mg per day. You can take smaller doses multiple times throughout the day, and this should guard against any stomach upset that can come with taking glucosamine.
Glucosamine most often comes in two types:
- Glucosamine sulfate
- Glucosamine hydrochloride
Some glucosamine supplements come in a combination with chondroitin sulfate. Most of the research shows that taking a combination of these two supplements is more effective for inflammation and joint pain. Glucosamine Facts and History
Glucosamine is an amino sugar. It is a natural chemical in the body and is involved in the production of cartilage, collagen, and other soft tissue in the joints and bones. As a source for glucosamine supplements, it can be made from the exoskeletons of shellfish. It can also be produced from certain grains such as corn and wheat.
Glucosamine comes in three forms: glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, and N-acetyl glucosamine. The two main forms used for supplements are glucosamine sulfate and glucosamine hydrochloride. Both are effective for relieving joint pain and the symptoms of osteoarthritis, among other things.
Glucosamine was first isolated in 1876. It was not fully developed as an isolated chemical until 1939 when researchers began studying its potential therapeutic effects. It has since been tested as a potential treatment for a variety of joint and bone disorders. While much evidence suggests that glucosamine supplements are effective for reducing joint and bone pain, and for reducing the symptoms and progression of osteoarthritis, it has not been approved by the FDA as a medical treatment for these conditions.
The research on glucosamine shows that it can be effective in treating the symptoms and progression of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Early research suggests that oral use of glucosamine hydrochloride might reduce pain related to rheumatoid arthritis when compared with placebo, an inactive substance. However, researchers didn't see an improvement in inflammation of the number of painful or swollen joints.
Glucosamine has not been approved by the FDA as a medical treatment. This simply means that there needs to be more research on glucosamine before it can be prescribed as a medical treatment.
Wrapping things up
Glucosamine supplements hold the potential to provide relief for a variety of bone and joint disorders. Since glucosamine is made naturally in our bodies in the process of synthesizing the soft tissue in and around the joints of our bones, it is a logical conclusion that supplementing with this chemical can help restore health to our bones and joints.
As it turns out, there is sound scientific evidence to show that glucosamine supplements do in fact provide relief for symptoms of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders. In fact, glucosamine has been shown to slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
While more research is needed, the evidence thus far shows that glucosamine is a healthy and effective supplement for joint and bone pain. Glucosamine supplements are also extremely safe. The risks are rare and most often minimal, although some stomach problems may occur in some people.
The overall picture for glucosamine is that it is a safe and effective treatment for joint and bone disorders. The early research and anecdotal evidence show that glucosamine does provide relief for joint pain. Given that glucosamine is a naturally occurring substance, one that is made by our own bodies, it is preferable to taking synthetic analgesics which only treat symptoms without addressing the underlying causes of joint and bone disorders.