The Benefits of Glucosamine

Health Benefits, Uses, and More

Glucosamine is a compound found naturally in the body, made from glucose and the amino acid glutamine. Glucosamine is needed to produce glycosaminoglycan, a molecule used in the formation and repair of cartilage and other body tissues.

Glucosamine Use for Osteoarthritis

Since production of glucosamine slows with age, some people use glucosamine supplements to fight aging-related health conditions, such as osteoarthritis.

Taking glucosamine as a nutritional supplement is thought to keep osteoarthritis in check by restoring the body's glucosamine supply and repairing damaged cartilage.

Glucosamine With Chondroitin or MSM

Glucosamine is often combined with chondroitin sulfate, a molecule naturally present in cartilage. Chondroitin gives cartilage elasticity and is believed to prevent the destruction of cartilage by enzymes.

In some cases, glucosamine is also combined with methylsulfonylmethane (or MSM) in nutritional supplements.

Uses for Glucosamine

In alternative medicine, proponents claim that glucosamine may help with the following health problems:

The Science Behind Glucosamine

Research suggests that glucosamine may offer certain health benefits.

Here's a look at the study findings:

Osteoarthritis

Glucosamine may be of benefit in the treatment of osteoarthritis (especially osteoarthritis of the knee), according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Indeed, a 2005 report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded that some preparations of glucosamine may reduce pain and improve functioning in people with osteoarthritis.

For the report, researchers analyzed 20 studies (with a total of 2,570 patients) on the use of glucosamine in treatment of osteoarthritis.

There's also some evidence that glucosamine may slow the progression of osteoarthritis. In a 2002 study from Archives of Internal Medicine, for example, 202 people with mild to moderate osteoarthritis took either 1,500 mg of glucosamine or a placebo daily for three years.

At the end of the study, researchers found that glucosamine slowed the progression of knee osteoarthritis and reduced pain and stiffness. What's more, X-rays revealed no overall change or narrowing of joint spaces in the knees (a sign of deterioration) among members of the glucosamine group. In contrast, joint spaces in placebo-taking participants had narrowed over the three years.

One of the largest studies on glucosamine for osteoarthritis was a 6-month study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006. Called GAIT, the study compared the effectiveness of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, the drug celecoxib, or a placebo in people with knee osteoarthritis.

Glucosamine or chondroitin alone or in combination didn't reduce pain in the overall group, although people in the study with moderate-to-severe knee pain were more likely to respond to glucosamine.

One major drawback of the GAIT Trial was that glucosamine hydrochloride was used rather than glucosamine sulfate (a more widely used and researched form of glucosamine).

For a 2007 report published in Arthritis and Rheumatism, investigators analyzed previous research on glucosamine (including the GAIT Trial) and concluded that glucosamine hydrochloride was not effective. The analysis also found that studies on glucosamine sulfate were too different from one another and were not as well-designed as they should be, so they could not properly draw a conclusion. More research is needed.

Temporomandibular Joint Osteoarthritis

Glucosamine is possibly effective for temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis, according to the NIH. In a 2001 study from the Journal of Rheumatology, researchers found that glucosamine alleviated pain among a group of adults with this condition.

For the study, 45 patients took either glucosamine or ibuprofen for 90 days. Of the 39 people who completed the study, 15 members of the glucosamine group and 11 members of the ibuprofen group showed significant improvement.

Low Back Pain

Glucosamine may not benefit people with chronic low back pain and degenerative lumbar osteoarthritis, according to a 2010 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For six months, 250 patients with both conditions took either glucosamine supplements or a placebo. Study results revealed that glucosamine did not reduce low back pain or pain-related disability.

Glaucoma

Very limited evidence indicates glucosamine could be a treatment for glaucoma, according to a 2001 report from Alternative Medicine Review. However, due to the lack of clinical trials testing glucosamine's effectiveness as a glaucoma treatment, it's too soon to recommend glucosamine as a glaucoma therapy.

Where to Find Glucosamine

Glucosamine is available as a nutritional supplement in health-food stores and many drug stores. Glucosamine also is used in some sports drinks and in cosmetics.

Glucosamine supplements are manufactured in a laboratory from chitin, a substance found in the shells of shrimp, crab, lobster, and other sea creatures.

Caveats

Most studies involving humans have found that short-term use of glucosamine is well-tolerated. Read about the side effects of glucosamine.

Supplements, in general, haven't been tested for safety and keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

You can get safety tips on using supplements here, but if you're considering the use of glucosamine, talk with your primary care provider first. 

Using Glucosamine for Health

Glucosamine may be of some benefit to people with osteoarthritis. It's important to note that health care providers often suggest a three-month trial of glucosamine and discontinuing it if there is no improvement after three months.

If you're considering the use of glucosamine in treatment of any condition, talk to your doctor before starting your supplement regimen.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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Head KA. "Natural therapies for ocular disorders, part two: cataracts and glaucoma." Altern Med Rev. 2001 Apr;6(2):141-66.

National Institutes of Health. "Glucosamine sulfate: MedlinePlus Supplements". April 2011.

Pavelka K, Gatterova J, Olejarova M, Machacek S, Giacovelli G, Rovati LC. Glucosamine sulfate use and delay of progression of knee osteoarthritis: a 3-year, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study. Arch Intern Med. 2002 Oct 14;162(18):2113-23.

Thie NM, Prasad NG, Major PW. "Evaluation of glucosamine sulfate compared to ibuprofen for the treatment of temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis: a randomized double blind controlled 3 month clinical trial." J Rheumatol. 2001 Jun;28(6):1347-55.

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Wilkens P, Scheel IB, Grundnes O, Hellum C, Storheim K. "Effect of glucosamine on pain-related disability in patients with chronic low back pain and degenerative lumbar osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial." JAMA. 2010 Jul 7;304(1):45-52.

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