Last Updated June 13th, 2021
What is Chondroitin?
Chondroitin (Chondroitin sulfate) is a complex sugar that is normally found in the cartilage around the different joints in the body. Chondroitin helps maintain elasticity in the cartilage by retaining water. It was first identified in the 1960s when it was extracted and purified.
Chondroitin is usually manufactured from the cartilage of cows, pigs and sharks, although it can also be synthetically manufactured in the lab. It is usually taken as a dietary supplement, with studies showing that chondroitin can prevent the breakdown of cartilage and also help in its repair.
Chondroitin is primarily prescribed for the treatment of osteoarthritis. It is usually prescribed with a combination of other compounds like N-acetyl glucosamine, manganese ascorbate, glucosamine sulfate or glucosamine hydrochloride.
Chondroitin is available in the following forms:
- Oral medicine: This is prescribed to people with osteoarthritis, acid reflux, Kashin-Beck disease, HIV/AIDS, cholesterol and interstitial cystitis.
- Eye drops: This is used for the treatment of dry eyes. It is also used during cataract operations.
- Ointment: This is prescribed for people who have osteoarthritis pain.
- Injection: Chondroitin sulfate is also injected into the muscles of people who have osteoarthritis.
How does chondroitin work?
Chondroitin works by reducing the activity of certain enzymes and other substances that breakdown collagen (the main structural protein found in skin and connective tissues) in joints. Chondroitin also possesses anti-inflammatory properties.
Chondroitin is proved to be very effective in the treatment of the following conditions
Cataract is the term given to a condition where the lens of the eye becomes opaque. It is common in older adults. Surgery, which involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with a synthetic one, is the only way to treat this condition. During cataract surgery, injecting a solution of chondroitin sulfate and sodium hyaluronate protects the eye. The solution works by reducing eye pressure. It can also improve the overall eye health after the surgery.
Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that affects joints in your hands, knees, hips, and spine. It occurs when the cartilage of the bones wears down over time. Chondroitin sulfate is known to improve pain and function in some people with osteoarthritis when it is taken orally for at least 6 months. Research has shown that taking chondroitin sulfate for a period of 24 months may slow the progression of osteoarthritis. Using chondroitin sulfate cream in combination with other products is also known to provide pain relief.
Urinary tract infections
This happens when harmful bacteria enter your urinary tract and begin to multiply. Some of the symptoms of UTIs include burning sensation during urination, frequent urge to urinate and pain. Women are more prone to UTI’s as they have shorter urethras than men, making it easier for the pathogens to reach the bladder. Administering a chondroitin sulfate solution via a catheter is also known to reduce urinary tract infections in women, who have a history of UTIs
People who experience joint pain triggered by breast cancer drugs can also be helped by using chondroitin sulfate. Taking chondroitin sulfate for 24 weeks helps with joint pain and other symptoms caused by these drugs.
This is a condition that is characterized by eye redness, a feeling that some foreign particle has entered the eye, and dry stringy mucus at the corners of the eye. This is usually caused by the lack of tears, although it may also happen due to blocked oil glands in the eye. Using chondroitin sulfate eye drops to decrease the symptoms of dry eyes. It also improves the overall eye health when taken in combination with artificial tears.
Acid reflux is a common condition that is characterized by burning pain in the chest area. Acid reflux happens when stomach acid is pushed back into the esophagus (food pipe). Chondroitin sulfate seems to reduce the symptoms of acid reflux when it is taken with antacids.
Interstitial cystitis (painful bladder)
This is a chronic bladder condition that is characterized by pain and pressure in the bladder area. Although the causes of this condition are not clear, experts believe interstitial cystitis happens due to a defective bladder or changes in the nerve of the bladder. Painful bladder symptoms can be reduced when a solution of chondroitin sulfate put in the bladder.
Kashin-Beck disease (bone and joint disease)
This is a rare chronic condition that is characterized by the development of stiff deformed joints, shortened limb length and short stature due to the death of the growth plates of bones and joint cartilage. This condition (which is more prevalent in Tibet, China, North Korea, and Siberian Russia) results due to the lack of iodine. The administration of Chondroitin sulfate in people with this condition reduces pain and slows down the joint space narrowing.
Psoriasis is a chronic condition of the skin that is characterized by inflammation, flaking and patches on the skin. Psoriasis is caused by an overactive immune system. Research has shown that taking chondroitin sulfate for 2-3 months helps improve the symptoms of psoriasis.
Side effects of chondroitin sulfate
Although chondroitin sulfate has no apparent side effects and is safe to take, there are some concerns from it being manufactured from animals. If chondroitin is not manufactured without proper precautions, it might lead to contamination especially if the animal has some disease. However, no such cases have been reported so far. People sometimes get mild side effects like
- Mild stomach pain
Some people experience more severe symptoms such as
- Swollen eyelids
- Leg swelling
- Hair loss
- Skin rash
- Irregular heartbeat
You should not take if you have the following conditions:
Some research has indicated that chondroitin might make prostate cancer worse by triggering it to spread or recur. If you have prostate cancer or have a family history of the disease, you should not take chondroitin sulfate supplements.
Asthma is a condition which is characterized by difficulty in breathing, shortness of breath and coughing. This happens due to the narrowing of the airways when it swells up and produces extra mucus. Asthma is usually triggered by allergens (pollen, dust mites, mold spores). Some research has shown that chondroitin might trigger asthma and make it worse. So people who have asthma should consult a doctor before taking chondroitin supplements.
Blood clotting disorders
Bleeding disorder affects the way your blood clots. Clotting is a process in which the blood turns from liquid to solid. This happens to prevent massive blood loss during the event of an injury. Certain conditions likehemophilia and Von Willebrand’s disease prevent the blood from clotting. The use of chondroitin sulphate supplements might increase the risk of bleeding in people with these conditions.
How much chondroitin should you take?
Oral: People with osteoarthritis usually take 800-2000 mg of chondroitin per day in one, two or three doses, depending on the severity of the symptoms. It is usually taken for a period of three years.
External application: Osteoarthritis patients can use chondroitin creams (which usually contain 50 mg/gram of chondroitin sulfate, 30 mg/gram of glucosamine sulfate, 140 mg/gram of shark cartilage, and 32 mg/gram of camphor) 2-3 times a day for a period of eight weeks.
Injection: Chondroitin sulfate can be injected into the muscle daily or twice weekly for a period of 6 months.
Eye Drops: People who have dry eyes can use chondroitin eye drops 2-3 times a day for a period of 4-6 weeks.
Interactions with other medications
Before taking chondroitin supplements, you should consult your doctor especially if you are on any medications. Chondroitin interacts with blood thinners, NSAID painkillers and other supplements like ginkgo Biloba, garlic, and saw palmetto.
Can you get chondroitin from foods?
Chondroitin is naturally found in meat, especially in the connective tissues of animals (gristle is said to contain the highest concentration of chondroitin). However, natural food sources have a much lower concentration of chondroitin compared to supplements.
Chondroitin for dogs
Dogs also suffer from arthritis as they age. Chondroitin occurs naturally in dogs but it levels decline due to a number of reasons including age, illness or injury. Animal experts believe that chondroitin supplements may help reduce cartilage loss that leads to the pain and inflammation of dog arthritis.
Nowadays, a number of pet owners and animal care professionals are considering the use of chondroitin to treat dogs who are suffering from hip dysplasia and other degenerative joint and bone disorders.
However, chondroitin supplements do cause a few side effects in dogs including
- Stomach Pain
The risk of adverse gastrointestinal reactions in dogs can be avoided to a certain extent by giving chondroitin with food.
Chondroitin for dogs comes in many forms like pills, liquids and chewable tablets (these often contain chondroitin made from cows and sharks). Chondroitin supplements for dogs are formulated for easier digestion and absorption by your pet. Some of the most popular chondroitin supplements made for dogs include
- Smith’s Joint Care
Chondroitin in combination with Glucosamine
Chondroitin is often prescribed along with glucosamine in treating arthritis and osteoarthritis pain.
What is glucosamine?
Glucosamine, like chondroitin, is also a natural compound that is found in cartilage, mainly in the fluid around the joints. It is also used as a supplement and is harvested from shellfish. However, it can also be manufactured synthetically in the laboratory. Glucosamine is available in several chemical forms but one that is commonly used is glucosamine sulfate. Glucosamine has anti-inflammatory properties and also helps in cartilage regeneration. It is very effective in relieving the symptoms of arthritis.
Chondroitin and glucosamine combination is usually used in alternate medicine for treating osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, cataracts, glaucoma, bladder problems, heart disease, high cholesterol, or TMJ (temporomandibular joint disease). However, the effectiveness of chondroitin and glucosamine in combination for treating any medical condition has not been proved. The medicinal use of these products has also not been approved by the FDA.
Although taking glucosamine and chondroitin in combination is usually thought to be safe, they are a few potential side effects. Some people taking the glucosamine-chondroitin combination reported
- Abdominal pain
- Allergic reactions
You should also consult your doctor before taking the glucosamine/chondroitin combination because they may interact with certain drugs like cancer medicine, anisindione, dicumarol and warfarin
Risk of contamination
Chondroitin and glucosamine are sold as an herbal supplement. Due to this reason, there are no manufacturing regulations for these products. Some brands of Chondroitin and glucosamine have been found to be contaminated with toxic metals. You should always buy supplements from trusted manufacturers to reduce the risk of contamination.
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