What are glucosamine and chondroitin?
Arthritis is a huge problem for many people, especially those of the older generation. Glucosamine is a chemical compound which occurs naturally in the human body. There are two types: hydrochloride and sulfate. Glucosamine helps to keep the cartilage in our joints healthy, but as we age, the amount of glucosamine in the body reduces and our joints begin to suffer. This can lead to our joints deteriorating, causing pain and a reduced level of mobility.
Glucosamine sulfate supplements have been recommended in the past to relieve the joint pain caused by arthritis. Experts are unsure as to how the supplement works, but studies have previously suggested that patients suffering from osteoarthritis experienced less pain in their knee joints after taking glucosamine. It is also felt that the same supplement could alleviate the pain suffered in other arthritic joints.
Chondroitin sulfate is another chemical found in the body, this time in the cartilage surrounding the joints. It can also be created from animal sources such as cow cartilage. Alongside other products like manganese ascorbate, glucosamine hydrochloride and the previously referred to glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate is used as a treatment for arthritis.
Previous research claimed that chondroitin sulfate eased the pain of arthritic joints and reduced swelling when used alongside traditional painkillers such as aspirin. The results of later studies were less persuasive, coming to the conclusion that chondroitin sulfate only had a slight effect on the reduction of arthritic pain.
It was felt by many medical professionals that, due to the natural occurrence of both glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate in and around the joints of the body, taking supplements of the chemicals would aid with strengthening cartilage structure and therefore alleviating the symptoms of arthritis. This view is quite controversial however, as more recently patients taking the two supplements have been shown in studies to be little better off than those taking the placebo.
As a result of this, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence no longer suggests the use of these supplements and the Osteoarthritis Research Society International recommends that their use is abandoned after six months if the sufferer feels they have had no effect on the disease.
A recent study looked again into the effect of a glucosamine supplement on patients with arthritis. It focused specifically on patients experiencing knee pain and looked at whether or not a supplement could reduce pain and increase the mobility of the knee joint.
The randomised study focused on a hundred Japanese subjects and was double-blind, meaning that neither the patients nor the doctors knew which of the patients was receiving the treatment or the placebo. The parallel groups were given either the supplement or the placebo, and researchers looked at the effect on sufferers’ knee joint function. The results were measured using a number of factors, including recording normal walking speed, knee extensor strength and the Japanese Knee Osteoarthritis measure.
Both the placebo group and those taking the glucosamine supplement experienced improvements in the functioning of their knee joints, however there was some difference in the walking speed test and the knee extensor strength results. Both showed significantly greater improvements in the group who had been taking the glucosamine supplement after week 8, and the trend had continued when the groups were tested again in week 16. No adverse effects were witnessed by those taking the supplements in the trial.
Researchers have therefore concluded that glucosamine supplements can be beneficial to patients suffering from osteoarthritis.