by Todd Runestad
Gail Jones, a 55-year-old woman living in Phoenix, uses glucosamine sulfate supplements to quiet the pain and discomfort of arthritis. Her doctor uses it to keep his tennis elbow at bay. Her son even gives it to his dog to help with nagging hip problems. This universal supplement not only has the endorsement of many individuals but also the American Arthritis Foundation.
The primary use of glucosamine sulfate is for osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint cartilage condition that affects more than 20 million Americans. Joint cartilage, the shock absorber that keeps bone from rubbing against bone, is made from proteins called collagen and sugar molecules called glycosaminoglycans, or GAGs. Joint cartilage is bathed in a fluid that lubricates joints and enables you to easily make a fist or jump a fence without pain. During the aging process, as the cartilage hardens and protective fluid reservoirs dry up, the pain and swelling of osteoarthritis result. Fortunately, glucosamine sulfate is a GAG building block.
Studies during the past 20 years show that glucosamine sulfate relieves osteoarthritis symptoms, generally within six weeks. One study, compared glucosamine to a placebo in 252 people with osteoarthritis of the knee. Four weeks later, those taking glucosamine sulfate were in less pain and could move better than the control group. Plus, no side effects were noted.1
Glucosamine's place in the mainstream medicine chest was further solidified in an analysis conducted at Boston University School of Medicine and published in the March 15, 2000, edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers summarized 15 glucosamine and chondroitin studies on knee or hip osteoarthritis. Chondroitin is another commonly used supplement for osteoarthritis.
The study involved patients who were randomly put into groups. Neither the doctor nor the patient knew whether the patient was taking glucosamine supplements or dummy pills. The researchers concluded that the two nutrients are safe and show "moderate to large effects" for osteoarthritis symptoms.2
Up until now, the most common conventional medicine for osteoarthritis includes Ibuprofen and Tylenol. These anti-inflammatory drugs may quell the pain more quickly than glucosamine sulfate, but they also may speed up osteoarthritis progression by interfering with cartilage repair and promoting cartilage destruction. Because glucosamine provides the building blocks for cartilage production and repair, according to some studies it may stop cartilage degeneration and improve joint movement.
A few studies supporting glucosamine sulfate over anti-inflammatory drugs include:
329 patients with osteoarthritis were given either: 1,500 mg glucosamine sulfate three times a day; 20 mg of the a prescription anti-inflammatory called piroxicam (brand name Feldene); both, or a placebo. Patients taking the glucosamine sulfate reported the best results and fewer side effects than individuals taking the dummy pills. Meanwhile, 20 patients taking Feldene dropped out because of adverse side effects.5
Glucosamine has no known serious side effects, although there are occasional reports of mild upset stomachs. With the advice of their physician, people with peptic ulcers should take glucosamine sulfate with food. There are some new brands available that include a stomach buffer to help relieve stomach upset. Recent lab studies, xx, report glucosamine may increase insulin resistance, so diabetics or overweight users should have their doctors carefully monitor blood-glucose levels.6
1. Noack W, et al. Glucosamine sulfate in osteoarthritis of the knee. Osteoarthritis Cartilage 1994; 2:51-9.
2. McAlindon TE, et al. Glucosamine and chondroitin for treatment of osteoarthritis: a systematic quality assessment and meta-analysis. JAMA 2000 Mar 15; 283 (11): 1469-75.
3. Muller-Fabender H, et al. Glucosamine sulfate compared to ibuprofen in osteoarthritis of the knee. Osteoarthritis Cartilage 1994;2:1-5.
4. Vaz AL. Double-blind clinical evaluation of the relative efficacy of ibuprofen and glucosamine sulfate in the management of osteoarthrosis of the knee in out-patients. Curr Med Res Opin 1982;8:145-59.
5. Rovati LC, et al. A large, randomized placebo-controlled, double-blind study of glucosamine sulfate vs Piroxicam and vs their association, on the kinetics of the symptomatic effect in knee osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis Cartilage 1994;2 Suppl 1:56.
6. Almada A, et al. Effects of chronic oral glucosamine sulfate upon fasting insulin resistance index in nondiabetic individuals. Experimental Biology 2000 meeting abstracts: Clin Nutr Topics; A750