Glucosamine occurs naturally in the body, helping to build cartilage. In osteoarthritis, wear and tear over time gradually diminishes the protective layer of cartilage near the joints of your bones.
Several studies have found that taking glucosamine supplements helps the body rebuild this layer of protective cartilage and alleviate pain associated with osteoarthritis. As people age, their natural stores of glucosamine decrease, making supplementation an especially attractive option. Glucosamine isn’t readily available in foods.
As with many natural remedies for common medical ailments, studies show conflicting evidence about how effective glucosamine is for alleviating pain and stalling the progression of osteoarthritis.
Glucosamine may naturally reduce osteoarthritis pain for some patients.
In 2006, the New England Journal of Medicine published preliminary results for a large, 24-week study called the Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT). The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was the largest of its kind and designed to measure the widely touted benefits of glucosamine for osteoarthritis. More than 1,200 patients participated at 16 rheumatology centers across the nation. The study found that patients who experienced moderate to severe osteoarthritis pain experienced the greatest benefit from taking glucosamine supplements.
For optimal results, the study found patients must take glucosamine in conjunction with chondroitin, another naturally compound found in the body’s cartilage that’s also available in supplement form.
The National Arthritis Foundation released a statement after the study’s 2006 release, saying that glucosamine taken together with chondroitin may offer relief for select patients suffering from osteoarthritis. The foundation urged patients to speak with their doctors. An update to this study found that patients taking glucosamine experienced a “beneficial but not significant” reduction in pain. However, a 2013 study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases found that patients taking glucosamine and chondroitin slowed their loss of cartilage, which may help slow the progression of osteoarthritis and associated pain.
MedlinePlus, a website run by the federal National Institutes of Health rates glucosamine as “likely effective”—the second-highest rating—for reducing pain related to osteoarthritis. Besides reducing pain, the supplement may slow the breakdown of cartilage, helping to keep joints healthier longer and reducing the need for eventual knee replacement.
Evidence for glucosamine’s ability to alleviate osteoarthritis pain is mixed, but many experts continue to recommend it.
Experts aren’t sure how glucosamine helps to alleviate pain from osteoarthritis. A typical dose is 500 milligrams taken three times daily. Side effects are mild, but glucosamine may interact with other medications, including blood thinners, heart medicines, or those regulating insulin, so be sure to talk with a doctor before taking the supplement.
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