Glucosamine may be effective for reducing the joint pain associated with arthritis.
Glucosamine is a chemical compound that is naturally found in the body. Glucosamine supports the health of cartilage, which is connective tissue required for the protection of bones at the joints and nerves. However, increasing age leads to a drop in glucosamine levels, leading to a gradual breakdown of joints – suggesting taking glucosamine for joint pain might be helpful.
Nutritional supplements of glucosamine have been associated with relieving joint pain. Glucosamine is thought to work by delaying the breakdown of, repairing, and rebuilding damaged cartilage. There are two main types of glucosamine supplements: hydrochloride and sulfate.
Chondroitin is another natural substance found in the body that helps cartilage to retain water. Chondroitin is frequently combined with glucosamine for joint pain.
Dietary supplements of glucosamine are used in the treatment of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other medical conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, allergies, and long-term back pain. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and can cause joint pain and stiffness. Current treatments for osteoarthritis include analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the joints, resulting in pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints.
The effectiveness of glucosamine in the management of osteoarthritis is unknown. However, glucosamine appears to provide relief for mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis when taken regularly due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Evidence from studies
Studies of glucosamine for joint pain have had conflicting results. The Glucosamine/ Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT) is a long-term study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, which investigates the use of glucosamine to treat knee osteoarthritis. The study found that there was no significant improvement in knee pain, stiffness, and physical function in the participants apart from in patients who had moderate-to-severe pain. For this reason, the investigators concluded that pain relief from glucosamine is dependent on the severity of the arthritis pain.
Another study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found no clinically significant differences in knee osteoarthritis between glucosamine and chondroitin compared to the placebo.
A study published in Rheumatology International found that a dose of 1,500 mg of glucosamine improved symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis more than a placebo. This highlights the possible use of glucosamine in conditions other than osteoarthritis. However, more evidence is required to confirm these findings.
The National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health states that it is unclear whether glucosamine helps with knee pain due to osteoarthritis. The most suitable solution may be to try glucosamine supplements if you have moderate or significant osteoarthritis pain for a period of time, such as two to three months. If you find that glucosamine is effectively reducing your joint pain, then you can continue to use them.
The side effects of supplements for osteoarthritis are generally mild and infrequent. They can include headaches, drowsiness, heartburn, skin reactions, constipation, and an upset stomach.
Since glucosamine is normally made of shellfish, it is essential that individuals with a shellfish allergy use a shellfish-free variety. Glucosamine may also increase blood sugar levels so is not recommended to those with diabetes.
Other ways to relieve joint pain
It is possible to reduce pain in the joints caused by osteoarthritis or other conditions in other ways:
- Exercise to strengthen the muscles around the joints
- Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet which is rich in vitamins and minerals
- Use anti-inflammatory creams or gels for pain relief and stiffness reduction
If you want to try glucosamine for joint pain, check with your doctor and pharmacist first to ensure that it is safe for you. It is also essential that you seek medical attention if you experience any side effects after taking glucosamine supplements.
Written by Albina Babu, MSc
Ernst, E. (2006). Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for knee osteoarthritis. The New England Journal of Medicine, 354(20), pp.2184-5.
Clegg, D.O., et al. (2006). Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and the two in combination for painful knee osteoarthritis. New England Journal of Medicine, 354(8), pp.795-808.
Nakamura, H., et al. (2007). Effects of glucosamine administration on patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatology International, 27(3), pp.213-218.
Glucosamine and chondroitin for osteoarthritis (2014). National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved from: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/glucosamine-and-chondroitin-for-osteoarthritis
Do glucosamine and chondroitin really help arthritis pain? (2020). Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/do-glucosamine-and-chondroitin-really-help-arthriti-pain
Glucosamine and chondroitin for osteoarthritis pain (2019). Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved from: https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/treatment/complementary-therapies/supplements-and-vitamins/glucosamine-chondroitin-osteoarthritis-pain
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