Glucosamine and Chondroitin

hip osteoarthritis

Hip arthritis causes wear=and-tear of the normal joint surface

Image © Medical Multimedia Group

 
For over two decades there has been a debate in the treatment of osteoarthritis about the use of the joint supplements glucosamine and chondroitin. Osteoarthritis is a condition that causes problems of wearing out of the normal smooth cartilage surfaces of the joints. Often called wear-and-tear arthritis, osteoarthritis causes joint pain, swelling, and deformity. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis.

How do glucosamine and chondroitin work?
Glucosamine and chondroitin are two molecules that make up the type of cartilage found within joints. Inside your joints, cartilage undergoes a constant process of breakdown and repair. However, to be properly repaired, the building blocks of cartilage must be present and available. The theory behind using the glucosamine and chondroitin joint supplements is that more of the cartilage building blocks will be available for cartilage repair.

  • Glucosamineis a precursor to a molecule called a glycosaminoglycan-this molecule is used in the formation and repair of cartilage. 
  • Chondroitin is the most abundant glycosaminoglycan in cartilage and is responsible for the resiliency of cartilage.

Treatment with these joint supplements is based on the theory that oral consumption of glucosamine and chondroitin may increase the rate of formation of new cartilage by providing more of the necessary building blocks.

Do glucosamine and chondroitin supplements increase cartilage formation?
While it is an interesting theory, oral consumption of glucosamine and chondroitin has not been shown to alter the availability of these cartilage building blocks inside an arthritic joint. It has not been shown that consumption of joint supplements increases the quantity of these cartilage building blocks within any joint.

What research has investigated glucosamine and chondroitin?
There have been numerous studies to examine the treatment effects of glucosamine and chondroitin over short periods of time. Most of these studies last only one to two months; however, they have indicated that patients experienced more pain reduction when taking glucosamine and chondroitin than patients receiving a placebo. The improvement experienced by these patients was similar to improvements experienced by patients taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) that have been a mainstay of non-operative arthritis treatment. The difference is that NSAIDs carry an increased risk of side effects including gastrointestinal complaints and bleeding.

The joint supplements glucosamine and chondroitin have few side effects, and thus their use would be preferred if the effects of pain reduction were indeed the same. Furthermore, there is an indication that NSAIDs may increase the progression of arthritis, whereas glucosamine and chondroitin may offer a more protective effect to the cartilage surface.


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