From Southwest Health:
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are well-known supplements that are
advertised to help relieve osteoarthritis (OA) pain. Both substances are found
naturally in the body.Studies have shown that people with mild to moderate arthritis have
reported pain relief. Some research also indicates that these supplements
might also slow cartilage damage in people with OA. But they don't work for
Dietary supplements are not regulated so exercise caution. First, be
sure that your pain is caused by OA. Choose a product sold by well-established
companies who are accountable for their product. Read the labels carefully,
and always consult with your doctor before using supplements.
More studies must be done before health care professionals can confirm
the safety and effectiveness of these supplements.
What are glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate?
Glucosamine is a form of amino (protein) sugar that is
believed to play a role in cartilage formation and repair. Chondroitin sulfate
is part of a large protein molecule (proteoglycan) that gives cartilage
Glucosamine is extracted from crab, lobster or shrimp shells. Chondroitin
sulfate comes from animal cartilage, such as tracheas or shark cartilage.
If you are allergic to shellfish, check with your doctor before you take
glucosamine. In most cases, allergies are caused by the proteins in shellfish,
not chitin, from which glucosamine is extracted.
The National Institutes of Health is currently conducting an in-depth
clinical study that will hopefully provide definitive results about how these
supplements affect you.
How do I know what to buy?
Dietary supplements are not regulated. You will find widely varying degrees
of quality. As we said earlier, choose products from well-established companies
that can be held accountable. Ask your pharmacist for help if you don't
understand the ingredients or instructions.
Always discuss with your doctor any changes you plan to make that might
affect your health. This includes change in diet, exercise, taking supplements
or any change in life style or practice.
Of course, be sure that OA is the cause of your pain. You should never stop
or reduce any current prescribed medication without consulting with your
Insurance companies do not reimburse for supplements. You should expect to
pay about $1 to $3 a day.
What's the right amount to take?
Again, you should talk to your doctor about the proper dosage. The amount
used in studies of glucosamine was 1,500 mg per day and in studies of
chondroitin sulfate, 1,200 mg per day was used.
If you don't see any difference in your symptoms within a few months, you are
probably one of those who won't be helped by the supplements.
What about side effects?
The most common side effects are increased intestinal gas and softened
stools. If you experience these problems, you might want to try switching brands
before you stop using them altogether.
If you experience new or unusual symptoms while you are taking the
supplements be sure to contact your doctor.
- Children, women who are pregnant, and women who could
become pregnant should not take these supplements. They have not been studied
long enough to determine their effects on a child or on a developing fetus.
- Because glucosamine is an amino sugar, people with
diabetes should check their blood sugar levels more frequently when taking
- If you are taking chondroitin sulfate in addition to a
blood-thinning medication or daily aspirin therapy, have your blood clotting
time checked more often. This supplement is similar in structure to the
blood-thinning drug heparin, and the combination may cause bleeding in some
- If you have allergies to shellfish, check with your doctor. You may still
be able to take glucosamine as it is extracted from chitin, whereas most
allergies are to the protein found in shellfish.
Source: Arthritis Foundation brochure Glucosamine and Chondroitin