What are they?
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are two popular ingredients present in dietary supplements intended to support joint health for athletes and non-athletes alike. Glucosamine is a sugar that is naturally produced in humans. Chondroitin sulfate is found in our cartilage. It helps our cartilage absorb relatively large quantities of water.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have gained popularity in recent years to help with knee, elbow and hip pain, especially related to pain from osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a chronic and progressive disease that is very common, and the prevalence increases with age. Osteoarthritis is projected to double in prevalence within the next two decades.
Can Glucosamine and Chondroitin Make a Difference for You?
Experimental results of the supplements’ effectiveness have been mixed at best, and discouraging at worst. In one study published in the_ New England Journal of Medicine_ (2006), glucosamine and chondroitin did not reduce pain effectively in a group of patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, except for a subgroup of patients with moderate-to-severe knee pain.
Another study published in the Journal of Rheumatology (2003) found that after four weeks of a topical application of glucosamine and chondroitin, patients did have an overall reduction in pain.
And, a 24-week study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that taking 500 mg a day of glucosamine and 400 mg per day of chondroitin was no better at relieving pain than the placebo.
Is it safe?
The good news is that both of the supplements have been tested for safety. In some of the studies, there was a complete absence of adverse effects in humans. Most are confident in the long-term safety of the dietary supplement.
What should you do?
As an older athlete, I had been told about the benefits of glucosamine and chondroitin for years. I have a bottle of the supplement on my desk as I write this. From the research, I would think twice about running out and buying a new bottle. It is not a magic cure-all for knee or hip pain. On the other hand, if the pain is severe and all other options have been explored, it is safe to give it a try.
Tracy Davenport, Ph.D., is a freelance health writer and the C.E.O. of Tracy’s Smoothie Place. She serves as the expert on a weekly radio show about health and wellness and is the author of Making Life Better for a Baby with Acid Reflux and multiple articles about the cost of caregiving. Learn more about Tracy and what healthy living services and products she can offer on her website. She can also be found on Twitter and Instagram @drinksmoothies.