Currently the strongest supporting research for the use of a supplement for treating chronic pain goes to glucosamine sulfate, a naturally occurring compound found in our body’s own connective tissue. It has been effectively synthetized and is frequently used to treat arthritis pain, especially in conjunction with chondroitin.

Glucosamine is still considered an alternative treatment for osteoarthritis but many patients have experienced relief from their chronic pain conditions while taking this supplement. These improvements have included:

  • Overall reduction in pain
  • Improved function for patients with hip or knee pain
  • Reduction of stiffness in affected areas
  • Reduction of swelling in the affected joints
  • Continued relief even after stopping the treatment

Regardless of the studies that indicate that the use of glucosamine were not different than the use of a placebo, many patients have personally experienced improvement and pain relief from using these supplements.

According to a study reported by the Department of Health and Human Services and conducted by the Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trail (GAIT), patients with mild pain did not see a significant improvement in their conditions. However, the results were very different in those experiencing moderate arthritis pain.

For a subset of participants with moderate-to-severe pain, glucosamine combined with chondroitin sulfate provided statistically significant pain relief compared with placebo—about 79 percent had a 20 percent or greater reduction in pain versus about 54 percent for placebo. According to the researchers, because of the small size of this subgroup these findings should be considered preliminary and need to be confirmed in further studies.

How does glucosamine work?

Your body’s natural glucosamine is the compound that helps create cartilage around your bones and joints. Cartilage provides a natural cushioning as you move your body in natural ways. However, osteoarthritis affects the cartilage by stiffening or reducing it around your joints and inflammation in the area causing chronic pain. Glucosamine supplements can add the building blocks for healthy cartilage back into your system.

Because the natural components of glucosamine are already found in our connective tissue, the use of these supplements has provided relief for many arthritis patients, but these results are mixed.

According to a report by the University Of Maryland Medical Center:

In the past, some researchers thought glucosamine may actually slow progression of the disease, unlike other current medical treatments for OA. Many people take either acetaminophen (Tylenol) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), for OA pain. In addition, some of these drugs can cause stomach upset, cramps, constipation, diarrhea, and in some cases, stomach ulcers and infertility.

But so far studies have not shown conclusively that glucosamine helps repair or grow new cartilage, or stops cartilage from being further damaged. Glucosamine is often taken with chondroitin, another supplement thought to be effective in treating OA. Like glucosamine, chondroitin also has conflicting results in studies.

However, in spite of conflicting reports glucosamine may still provide anti-inflammatory benefits to patients suffering from chronic pain related to arthritis. Using this supplement also provokes fewer side effects than many prescriptions or over-the-counter medications that can help some patients cope with the long-term effects of their chronic pain conditions.

Typically, glucosamine works best when paired with chondroitin, another compound naturally found in connective tissue. These supplements can be purchased together or separately at most natural health stores.

While these compounds can be found in foods, especially meats, they are not typically at the amounts that would be considered therapeutic. However, many of the commercially available supplements derive their glucosamine from animal sources such as cows.

As with many other natural supplements, glucosamine isn’t without potential side effects.

Most of them are mild and may include nausea, heartburn, or constipation. There has also been some evidence that shows it may negatively affect patients with type 2 diabetes by raising blood sugar. However, most diabetic patients can use glucosamine safely with proper blood sugar monitoring. People with shrimp or shellfish allergies are cautioned when taking glucosamine. The compound is naturally produced in the shells of these animals but most allergies are in response to the meat.

Much of the experience with glucosamine comes from independent use and whether or not there is perceived improvement in chronic pain resulting from osteoarthritis. Since the risks of taking the supplement are minimal, most patients see no harm in adding it to their treatment.

Since glucosamine and chondroitin are found naturally in the human body, the additional use of these supplements have not been found to cause any harm in normal patients. There may be some interactions with other drugs so be sure to consult your doctor before adding them to your routine. While glucosamine, in conjunction with chondroitin, may not actually rebuild the connective tissues found in cartilage, it may help inhibit further deterioration and help reduce the overall inflammation in the affected joints.

Have you used glucosamine and how did it affect your chronic joint pain caused by osteoarthritis?

Image by Sarah via Flickr


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