Glucosamine Supplements for Joint Health

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Daniel Pavlik Sr DC

Apr 21, 2020

Many people who suffer from joint problems, particularly arthritis, reach for supplements to help address their symptoms. Glucosamine is a popular choice, as it’s widely reputed to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Is glucosamine an effective treatment for joint problems, and can it promote joint health?

What is glucosamine?

Glucosamine is a substance found naturally in cartilage, the soft yet resilient tissue that cushions joints and prevents wear and tear on bones. As a supplement, glucosamine is usually taken as glucosamine sulfate. This supplemental form of glucosamine is either harvested from shellfish or synthesized in a laboratory. Other types of glucosamine include glucosamine hydrochloride and N-acetyl glucosamine. These compounds can’t be regarded as interchangeable and may have different effects.

Is glucosamine effective?

Research into glucosamine supplements for arthritis is ongoing but is relatively promising. The news for people living with rheumatoid arthritis is mixed. While glucosamine sulfate supplements don’t seem to reduce the number of inflamed joints, or the degree of inflammation, there is some evidence that glucosamine can reduce pain for a large percentage of sufferers.

Those with osteoarthritis seem to derive more benefit from glucosamine. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage of the joints breaks down and is no longer as effective in cushioning the bones. This leads to pain and inflammation as the bones of the joint become worn. In some studies, supplementation with glucosamine sulfate appears to reduce pain and inflammation and can improve joint mobility.

Glucosamine sulfate seems to be most effective when used in conjunction with chondroitin, a substance believed to be involved in maintaining fluid levels in the joints. In a large-scale multinational clinical trial performed in 2016, a combination glucosamine-chondroitin treatment was administered to patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee. This study showed evidence that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin was at least as effective as the NSAID celecoxib, a leading conventional treatment.

Can glucosamine prevent joint problems?

While glucosamine may be useful in addressing arthritis once it has developed, it’s less clear that glucosamine can prevent arthritis if you don’t have it yet. Some people do use glucosamine (either alone or in combination with chondroitin) as a prophylactic measure, in the hopes of preventing arthritis in the future. Research into this use of glucosamine is limited, however.

How does glucosamine help with joint problems?

The exact mechanisms by which glucosamine reduces pain and inflammation are not fully understood. Experiments in a laboratory setting show an anti-inflammatory effect on cells in vitro. It’s also theorized that glucosamine may help the body to regenerate cartilage, although this has not been demonstrated scientifically.

Is glucosamine right for me?

Whether or not you should try taking glucosamine is dependent on several factors. First of all, the cause of your joint issues is a consideration. If you suffer from chronic pain and inflammation due to rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, glucosamine may be a good choice for you. If your joint problems are due to something else, such as an injury, it may be less helpful.

Another consideration is the possibility of side effects. According to the Mayo Clinic, glucosamine sulfate may cause the following: – Constipation – Diarrhea – Drowsiness – Headache – Heartburn – Nausea

Some patients also report skin reactions when taking glucosamine. If you experience undesirable effects, you should stop taking the supplement.

When taken orally as directed on the label, glucosamine seems to be safe. It’s not advisable to take more than the recommended dose; this is unlikely to produce stronger effects and may instead cause additional side effects.

As with most nutritional supplements, it’s strongly advised that you discuss taking glucosamine with a medical professional before you begin taking it. Your doctor can help you determine whether taking glucosamine might be worthwhile and can warn you of any potential safety issues. Your doctor can also help you find other therapies for your joint problems, which may be more effective than supplementation.

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