Last Updated June 13th, 2021
What is Glucosamine?
Glucosamine sulfate is an amino sugar that is naturally found in the fluid around the joints of humans. It is also found naturally in shellfish, animal bones, bone marrow and fungi. It can also be manufactured synthetically in the laboratory.
Glucosamine plays an important role in cartilage regeneration and is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Due to these reasons, it is taken as a supplement to treat pain and discomfort related to arthritis and osteoarthritis.
There are different forms of glucosamine including
- Glucosamine sulfate,
- Glucosamine hydrochloride
Although all three compounds have some similarities, glucosamine sulfate is the only one that has healing properties. This is because; it is believed sulfate is needed by the body to make cartilage. Glucosamine sulfate is usually harvested from the shells of shellfish, although it can also be manufactured synthetically in the laboratory.
Glucosamine sulfate is available in the following forms:
- Oral medicine: This is prescribed to people with osteoarthritis.
- 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 it work?
The body uses glucosamine sulfate to produce other compounds that are used in building cartilage, ligaments, tendons and the thick fluid that surrounds joints. Joints in the body are usually cushioned by cartilage and fluid. However, in people with osteoarthritis, the cartilage wears down and this leads to pain and stiffness resulting from joint friction.
Studies have shown that glucosamine supplements work by preventing the breakdown of cartilage surrounding the joints. Glucosamine supplementation is also known to increase the production of these cartilages and fluids.
Glucosamine sulfate is most effective in the treatment of Osteoarthritis. Studies have shown that glucosamine sulfate supplementation can provide pain relief to people who have osteoarthritis, especially in the knees. It also lessens inflammation, reduces stiffness, and enhance functionality in the joints. It can be used as an alternative for over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. However, the effects of glucosamine sulfate show only after 4-8 weeks of regular intake.
Glucosamine sulfate may also prevent the osteoarthritis from getting worse by slowing the breakdown of cartilage or by repairing them. This might help the patient avoid total knee replacement surgery. However, people need to take glucosamine sulfate for several to see these effects.
Interstitial cystitis (Painful bladder syndrome)
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. It is also believed that Interstitial cystitis may happen due to a deficiency in a compound called glycosaminoglycan.
Since glucosamine is a part of glycosaminoglycan, it is believed that glucosamine supplements may help treat interstitial cystitis.
Joint pain caused by cancer drugs
People who experience joint pain triggered by breast cancer drugs can also be helped by using Glucosamine sulfate. Taking Glucosamine sulfate for 24 weeks in 2 or 3 daily doses helps with joint pain and other symptoms caused by these cancer drugs that lower estrogen levels.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease is a broad term that is used to describe the inflammation of the digestive tract. Inflammatory bowel disease is often characterized by
- Severe diarrhea
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss.
There are essentially two types of inflammatory bowel disease:
- Ulcerative colitis: This is a condition that is characterized by ulcers in the colon and the rectum.
- Crohn’s disease: This condition is characterized by inflammation in the lining of the digestive tract, which is often deep.
Inflammatory bowel disease is also believed to be caused due to a deficiency in glycosaminoglycan. Since glucosamine is a part of glycosaminoglycan, it is believed that glucosamine supplements may help treat inflammatory bowel disease.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system that affects the protective myelin (sheath) that covers nerve fibers. The body’s immune system attacks the myelin and this result in communication problems between the brain and the other parts of the body. If left unchecked, the disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves.
Glucosamine supplementation has been found to suppress the autoimmune response seen in multiple sclerosis.
The temporomandibular joint connects the jawbone to the skull, acting as a sliding hinge. temporomandibular joint disorders cause pain in the jaw and in the muscles of the jaw. Studies have shown that glucosamine sulfate supplements help reduce the pain associated with this condition.
Glucosamine sulfate has no apparent side effects and is safe to take. People sometimes get mild side effects like
Some people experience more severe symptoms such as
- Skin rash
- Severe headache
You should not take if you have the following conditions:
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 glucosamine might trigger asthma and make it worse. So people who have asthma should consult a doctor before taking glucosamine supplements.
This is a condition that damages the optic nerve in the eye due to the build-up of eye pressure. Glaucoma, which is often inherited, does not show up until later in life and gets worse over time. A person who has glaucoma should not take glucosamine sulfate supplements as some studies have shown that it may make the symptoms worse by increase the pressure inside the eye.
Some studies have suggested that glucosamine might increaseLDL cholesterol levels. So if you have high cholesterol, you should contact your doctor before taking this supplement.
Studies have indicated that glucosamine sulfate might raise blood sugar levels. Therefore it is not advised for people with prediabetes and diabetes.
High blood pressure
Some studies have indicated that glucosamine sulfate may increase insulin levels in the body. Higher insulin levels have been associated with an increase in blood pressure.
If you are allergic to shellfish then you should not take glucosamine sulfate supplements as they are usually manufactured from the shells of shellfish.
As glucosamine sulfate may raise the blood sugar levels, people who are scheduled to undergo surgery should stop taking it at least two weeks before the procedure.
Is glucosamine sulfate found in foods?
Glucosamine sulfate is found naturally in these foods
Crustaceans are creatures that have hard shells on the outside. Most crustaceans (crabs, shrimps, prawns) are found underwater, although some are also terrestrial (woodlice). Since most of the glucosamine supplements are manufactured from crustaceans, you can also get it by eating shrimp, lobster, crab and crawfish. However, the glucosamine content in these creatures is concentrated on their shells or exoskeletons. Most people throw away the shells as they are difficult to chew and digest. You can use the shells by grinding it and putting it in different dishes.
Glucosamine can be found in cartilage found at the ends of bones. However, people usually do not eat cartilage as many find it difficult to chew it. Hence, cartilage should be ground and cooked in a broth along with bones.
Since glucosamine is found in cartilage, you can get it by eating cartilaginous offal like an animal’s ears, snout and joint tissues. Organ meat and sausages also have amounts of glucosamine.
Fortified health drinks
Apart from this, glucosamine sulfate is added to several specialized nutrition drinks, usually along with chondroitin, methylsulfonylmethane, or MSM.
How much glucosamine sulfate should be taken?
Experts recommend that a person should take approximately 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate on a daily basis. If you are taking glucosamine for the treatment of osteoarthritis, you should take 500 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate, three times a day. However, you should consult your doctor to get the right dosage. It is believed that taking this supplement after meals cuts the risk of getting an upset stomach.
Interactions with other medications
You should not take glucosamine if you are on the following drugs
- Blood Thinners: Studies have found that glucosamine supplements may interact with the anticoagulant (blood-thinning) drugs
- Diabetes drugs: Glucosamine might affect the way your body processes sugar. So it should not be taken along with drugs used to lower blood sugar levels.
- Skullcaps supplements: Skullcap is a plant that has been in traditional medicine to cure a variety of ailments, ranging from diarrhea to anxiety. Today it is used in supplements owing to its many health benefits. However, skullcaps supplements should not be taken along with glucosamine sulfate as studies have indicated that the condition of the two supplants may lead to liver damage.
Glucosamine in combination with Chondroitin
Glucosamine is often prescribed along with chondroitin in treating arthritis and osteoarthritis pain.
What is chondroitin?
Chondroitin, like glucosamine, 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.
Glucosamine and chondroitin combination is usually used in alternative 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 herbal supplements. 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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