Glucosamine and also chondroitin sulphate are the products of a huge multi-billion dollar industry. They are marketed as being good for joint health and for osteoarthritis (OA).

Both are dietary supplements but they are also produced naturally in the body. Glucosamine is derived from the shells of crabs and lobsters. Chondroitin is usually derived from animal cartilage.

Both supplements are said to help relieve arthritic pain and also to prevent the arthritic joint narrowing and causing one bone to grind against another. Both are components of normal cartilage and the building blocks for cartilage.[1]

The following are Key Points provided by the US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) a division of the US National Institute of Health (NIH).[2]:

  • It is important not to replace conventional medical treatments forosteoarthritis (OA) with an unproven complementary health approach.
  • Some research has shown that acupuncture may help to reduce pain and improve joint mobility, and a small number of studies on massage and tai chi for OA symptoms suggest that both practices may help to reduce pain and improve physical function (the ability to walk and move).
  • There is little conclusive evidence that dietary supplements help with OA symptoms or the underlying course of the disease.

What the Science Says about Glucosamine andChondroitin Sulfate

  • Experts disagree on whether Glucosamine andChondroitin Sulfate may help knee and hip osteoarthritis.
  • The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) hasrecommended that people with hip or knee osteoarthritis not use glucosamine or chondroitin. But the recommendation was not a strong one, and the ACR acknowledged that it was controversial.

The background “There are at least 50 published clinical trials on either one of these supplements or the combination, with various relevant health outcomes, such as improved joint pain, function and improved joint space. However, some studies failed to show any significant benefit. All the studies were done on Osteoarthritis (OA) patients. We have no evidence that these supplements are useful for inflammatory arthritis such asRheumatoid arthritis (RA).

… there is no evidence that these agents prevent osteoarthritis in healthy persons or in persons with knee pain but normal radiographs. Also of note, these supplements will not cure arthritis — and that they are only a part of a multipronged treatment.” [3]

  1. Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAITNCCAM funded a study (GAIT) that examined the use ofGlucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate for knee pain from OA. Itenrolled nearly 1,600 participants. Results indicated that overall, a 6-month treatment with the dietary supplements was no better than placebo. While there was some evidence suggesting that participants with moderate-to-severe pain had modest reductions in pain with the combined supplements, this has not been confirmed.
  2. A follow-up study of GAIT participants, researchers examined whether glucosamine and chondroitin could prevent the progression of OA — an evaluation based on measuring joint space width. Results showed no significant change in joint space width or improvement in pain and function.
  3. 2010 meta-analysis A subsequent 2010 meta-analysislooked at 10 glucosamine and chondroitin trials involving 3,803 patients with knee or hip OA published similar results. It concluded that compared with placebo, glucosaminechondroitin, or a combination of both did not significantly reduce pain or change joint space.
  4. European Studies However, in several European studies, participants reported that their knees felt and functioned better after taking a large, daily dose of glucosamine sulfate.

Side Effects Glucosamine and chondroitin appear to be relatively safe and well tolerated when used in suggested doses over a 2-year period. In a few specific situations, however, there are concerns that side effects or drug interactions might occur:

Glucosamine may interact with the anticoagulant (blood-thinning) drug warfarin.

There is conflicting evidence about whether Glucosamine might have negative effects on glucose metabolism, especially in people with insulin resistance or impaired glucose tolerance.

Although recent animal studies conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration show that high doses of glucosamine hydrochloride may promote cartilage regeneration and repair, this dose was also found to causesevere kidney problems in the rats.