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Glucoasmine: What Is It And What Does It Do?

Glucoasmine: What Is It And What Does It Do?
Glucoasmine: What Is It And What Does It Do?

What Is Glucoasmine?

Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are natural substances found in and around the cells of cartilage. Glucosamine is an amino sugar that the body produces and distributes in cartilage and other connective tissue,
glucosamine sulfate is a chemical found in the body used to produce a variety of other chemicals that are involved in building tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and the thick fluid that surrounds joints. Chondroitin sulfate is a complex carbohydrate that helps cartilage retain water.
Glucosamine is vital for building cartilage. Joint cartilage requires glucosamine because it is a precursor for glycosaminoglycans (GAG’s) meaning glucosamine makes GAG’s which are a major component of joint cartilage. Sulfur needs to be incorporated into cartilage in order to make and repair it which glucosamine plays a crucial role in incorporating sulfur into cartilage.

Why Do We Need Glucoamsine Sulphate?

As we age, glucosamine levels go down, which can lead to eventual joint deterioration. Some researchers think the “sulfate” part of glucosamine sulfate is also important. Sulfate is needed by the body to produce cartilage. This is one reason why researchers believe that glucosamine sulfate might work better than other forms of glucosamine such as glucosamine hydrochloride or N-acetyl glucosamine which do not contain sulfate.

What Is Glucoamsine Commonly Used For?

Glucosamine sulfate is commonly used for arthritis, more specifically the most common type of arthritis called osteoarthritis. Also called degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis is caused by the breakdown of cartilage (the connective tissue that cushions the ends of bones within the joint) commonly affects the hands and large weight-bearing joints, such as the hip and knees.
In osteoarthritis the cartilage breaks down and becomes thin resulting in more joint friction, pain, and stiffness. Some research suggests taking glucosamine supplements may either increase the cartilage and fluid surrounding joints or help prevent breakdown of the the cartilage, or perhaps both.

Where Do You Find Glucoasmine?

It is naturally present in animal bones, bone marrow, shellfish and fungi. Glucosamine sulfate harvested for dietary supplements is often from the shells of shellfish however it can also be made in a laboratory. Most of the scientific research done on glucosamine has been done on the form glucosamine sulfate. Glucosamine supplements often have other ingredients added in, including chondroitin sulfate, MSM or shark cartilage currently there is no scientific proof that these combinations are of any more benefit than glucoasmine alone.

How Much Glucoasmine Should You Take?

The research around using glucoasmine for osteoarthritis has been conducted on the oral dose or 1500 mg once daily or 500 mg three times daily.
Glucosamine is also in some skin creams used to control arthritis pain so far there is no evidence that glucosamine can be absorbed through the skin. As a result any benefits perceived by using these topical creams is suspected to arise from other active ingredients in the cream not from the glucoasmine.

Does It Work And When Should You Expect Results?

The majority of research has been conducted on osteoarthritis of the knee and some of this research suggests glucosamine reduces pain of osteoarthritis in the knee about as well as the pain reliever Tylenol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil. But there is a difference between glucosamine sulfate and these drugs in the time it takes to reduce pain.
Unlike the other medications where any symptoms of pain can be relieved relatively quickly the research suggests glucosamine sulfate effects take about 4-8 weeks to be realised and that glucoasmine may continue to provide relief of symptoms up to 3 months after stopping the supplement.

Does It Work In Everyone With Osteoarthritis?

Worth noting is that it does not seem to reduce pain in everyone using it, as some people report no benefit and most studies appear to indicate that if you have osteoarthritis and your symptoms of pain are moderate-to-severe, glucosamine may help, otherwise it is probably no better than placebo. Some research indicates that with more mild or more severe cases and long standing osteoarthritis glucoasmine might not work very well. There is some evidence that people who take glucosamine sulfate might be less likely to need total knee replacement surgery.

Starting Taking Glucosamine

As with any supplement it is important to discus starting or changing your supplement choices with your doctor. Although glucoasmine is considered relatively safe some side effects and negative interactions have been rarely associated with glucoasmine intake including:

  • Drowsiness
  • Skin reactions
  • Headache
  • Caution as always with pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Medicated with Warfin or other anticoagulants

As well as the above, notably anyone with a shellfish allergy to avoid possible allergic reaction may be advised steer clear considering some glucosamine products are made from the shells of shellfish. Anyone with this allergy could consider taking man-made glucosamine supplements to avoid any possible reaction.

Some Of The Research Done On Glucoasmine

  • In 2008, researchers reported on a 2-year ancillary study at nine sites in the USA with a subset of participants from the original trial. The results, published in Arthritis & Rheumatism showed that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, together or alone, fared no better than placebo4 in slowing loss of cartilage in knee osteoarthritis. Noting that this does not state the individuals did not experience symptom relief it simply states there was no slowing of cartilage destruction.
  • Safe and relatively effective for osteoarthritis but no effect on sports injuries. Clinical studies indicate that glucosamine sulfate has been shown to be a safe and relatively effective treatment for osteoarthritis. However, no evidence to date supports or refutes a carryover effect to the athletic population and the injuries that occur in sport.
  • Patients with moderate-to-severe pain reported significant relief from the glucosamine/chondroitin combination.
  • No indication of benefit to chronic low back pain (LBP). Conclusions On the basis of the current research, any clinical benefit of oral glucosamine for patients with chronic LBP and radiographic changes of spinal OA can neither be demonstrated nor excluded based on insufficient data and the low quality of existing studies.

What Research Suggests Glucoasmine Could Do For You

May help patients with osteoarthritis. Several scientific studies have shown that glucosamine supplements may help patients with osteoarthritis (OA), especially OA of the hip or knee.
Glucosamine probably:

  • Reduces osteoarthritis-related pain
  • Improves function in patients with knee or hip osteoarthritis
  • Reduces stiffness
  • Reduces swelling in the joints
  • Continues to provide relief of symptoms up to 3 months after patients stopped treatment

The Big Question: Should You Bother Taking Glucoasmine?

My answer to this has generally been, if you can afford it and you have osteoarthritis and are therefore an appropriate candidate for trialing the supplement then I would say YES. Personally I would approach the use of glucoasmine combined with fish oil (in discussion with your Doctor obviously) and run your own trial for a period of 3 months. If during this time you experience relief of sorts then it is worth continuing or if you cease taking the supplement and then notice an rebound increase in symptoms then it may be glucoasmine works for your situation and it is worth considering continuing the supplement long term.
If you neither notice an improvement whilst taking the course or a subsequent increase in symptoms when completing (indicating a possible small positive effect you weren’t aware of during the course) then perhaps at this stage glucoamsine may not be a beneficial option for your condition.

Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products mentioned. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance on glucoasmine and or osteoarthritis should consult his or her general practitioner or physiotherapist.

Hayden Latimer is the founder of and principle physiotherapist at Sydney Physio Clinic. Since graduating from Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand he’s gained wide experience practicing across the globe for over 15 years and is now extremely knowledgeable in helping people reduce discomfort and restore function and mobility.

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