Glucosamine and Chondroitin is a combination of two natural parts of the body – they are both cartilage elements. Together, the combination is used by many as a natural alternative to painkillers to help treat osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis.
The scientific data shows that it probably works to some degree, but the question is what that actually means.
What are they?
Glucosamine is made from a glucose derivative and used in biological processes related to structure and development. It is found in almost every part of your body. The artificial form of it is derived from the shells of lobsters, crabs and shrimp.
Chondroitin is very similar. It too is a structural component of your body and is also found throughout it. In cartilage, chondroitin helps prevent compression and softens other pressures.
Why are they used?
Arthritis in general is a significant problem that affects many millions of people in the world. As we get older, the padding of the joints in our bodies can wear out.
This can lead to bones rubbing against each other, which is as painful as it sounds. Other problems that cause pain include inflammation and other degenerative issues in the joints.
How well does Glucosamine & Chondroitin work?
There has been a lot of research into how well Glucosamine and Chondroitin work to treat arthritis related pain. Unfortunately, a great deal of this research has been sponsored by the makers of supplements and is not the standard quality expected from research.
The data has been mixed. Some studies looking into glucosamine alone showed that it was effective at reducing pain in the joint and improving function, although to a modest degree. An 8 year study sponsored by a manufacturer showed that glucosamine sulfate supplementation reduced the risk of needing an arthroscopy procedure from 14% to 6%.
But other studies have shown little to no benefit. And even some of the studies that have shown efficacy may only show that there is some effect, not that it actually helps you.
Research into chondroitin has had very similar results. Some studies show that it works and others that it doesn’t.
But as a whole, does it work?
According to the research we looked at, the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin probably helps somewhat with osteoarthritis and possibly works for rheumatoid arthritis.
What else should I know?
Be careful with the supplement type. Some studies have shown that glucosamine sulfate is the most effective and that other forms may not work as well.
Also, make sure that the maker of your supplement is reputable. A high percentage of health supplements are not made well because they are less tightly regulated than drugs.
Make sure to check if there is the possibility for interactions with your medications. While rare, possible interactions may happen with diabetes and blood pressure medications, among others.
What are the side effects of glucosamine & chondroitin?
The side effects of these two supplements are typically very minor and do not cause too much a problem. Since they are derived from the body, they, in general, don’t tend to do much bad.
In a study of glucosamine and chondroitin in 1,583 people over age 40, 77 reports of serious side effects were reported. But of those, only 3 were directly attributed to the treatment. This study also said that minor side effects were minor and similar to placebo.
In another study, in those taking glucosamine, tenderness was reported in 3.5%, heartburn in around 2%, diarrhea in around 2%, and a small percentage reported nausea.
1) The clinical effectiveness of glucosamine and chondroitin supplements in slowing or arresting progression of osteoarthritis of the knee: a systematic review and economic evaluation
2) A Review of Evidence-Based Medicine for Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate Use in Knee Osteoarthritis
3) Questions and Answers: NIH Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial Primary Study