A chemical naturally found in your body, glucosamine plays an important part in our everyday movement. It helps build glycosaminoglycans, specialized molecules found in ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and the thick fluid that surrounds and cushions our joints. Any deficiency in this lubricant may lead to joint problems.
Unfortunately, glucosamine is not available in significant amounts in most food sources. It is, however, present in the shells of shellfish (lobsters, shrimp, crabs) and in fungi, animal bones, and bone marrow. Glucosamine supplements are usually made of these natural ingredients or processed in labs. These oral supplements include n-acetyl glucosamine, glucosamine hydrochloride, and glucosamine sulfate. Some experts suggest that glucosamine sulfate works better than other forms since your body needs sulfate to make cartilage. In fact, most available research has been done on glucosamine sulfate.1 2
Let’s take a look at the ways in which glucosamine can benefit your body. Glucosamine may:
Improve Symptoms Of Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in our bodies although the most commonly affected ones are in the knees, the small joints of the hands, and the hips. Osteoarthritis is characterized by stiff and painful joints. The protective cartilage at the ends of the bones deteriorates, leading to swelling, pain, and problems with joint movement.3 In addition, the space between the bones that form a joint may become narrow.
Research indicates that glucosamine sulfate may be able to have a positive long-term effect on all these symptoms. A study found that those who took a daily glucosamine sulfate supplement for 3 years did not experience any significant joint-space loss and also showed an improvement in symptoms.4 In another 2-year study that involved patients with chronic knee pain, taking a combination of glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate significantly reduced knee pain as well as joint space narrowing.5 Chondroitin, like glucosamine, is a component of cartilage and occurs naturally in the body. In most cases, glucosamine needs to be consumed for 2–4 months before it shows a positive effect.6
But this is not all black and white. The Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT), one of the largest clinical trials so far on the effect of the two chemicals, found that glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate, in combination or alone, did not offer significant pain relief to study participants in the mild pain subset. The supplements, alone or in combination, worked better in the moderate-to-severe knee pain subset. The study clearly indicates the need for more research.7 Participants who continued the trial were checked 2 years later and were found to have less bone loss than expected.
Reduce Pain In Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells lining your joints, causing them to become stiff, swollen, and painful. Over time, RA can cause joint damage, as well as bone and cartilage damage.8 Glucosamine supplements are believed to have a positive effect on RA symptoms. According to a study, when people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis took a glucosamine hydrochloride supplement for 12 weeks along with conventional treatment, they showed a significant improvement in pain when compared to a group that took a placebo. However, this application of glucosamine does come with a caveat – though it provided symptomatic relief, it was not found to have an antirheumatic effect. 9
Ease Inflammatory Bowel Disease Problems
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in your gut and damage tissue in the gut lining. This can lead to various issues like diarrhea, stomach pain, and problems absorbing nutrients.10 Research shows that N-acetyl glucosamine enemas or oral supplements may be able to help improve symptoms of IBD. This could be because it acts as a fuel for the synthesis of substances – fibroblasts and epithelial glycosaminoglycans – which are important for tissue repair.11 Animal studies have also revealed that glucosamine improved the clinical symptoms of IBD, and suppressed colonic inflammation and tissue injury.12
Although researchers are quite clear that the effects of glucosamine sulfate on wounds, sprains, and strains require more research, glucosamine sulfate may promote healing by helping the body make and repair connective tissue. Glucosamine supplies the raw material your body needs to make glycosaminoglycans, which are molecules present in your tendons, skin, joints, and ligaments. One study even showed that glucosamine sulfate supplements, when taken for a few months, helped teenage athletes with chondromalacia patella, a softening of knee cartilage, recover and return to training. The pain was gone in just a few weeks and, more significantly, the athletes did not have the same problem again.13
Lower Risk Of Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is cancer that begins in your large intestine. And it is the 4th most common kind of cancer diagnosed in the United States.14 Research shows that when glucosamine is taken along with chondroitin, there is a significant protective effect against this kind of cancer. However, more study may be required to understand its role in cancer prevention.15
Fight Multiple Sclerosis Relapse
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an incurable condition where your immune system mistakenly attacks the spinal cord or the brain. This can lead to a variety of symptoms ranging from faulty vision to problems with leg or arm movement, balance, and sensation.16 Sometimes MS sufferers have no symptoms for months, even years, before suffering a relapse. This is where glucosamine sulfate may be able to play an important role. Early research indicates that oral supplementation with glucosamine sulfate may be able to lessen relapse. Researchers suggest that this may be due to glucosamine sulfate’s capacity to inhibit an autoimmune attack on the central nervous system.17
Who Should Avoid Glucosamine
Glucosamine supplements should be taken under your doctor’s guidance only. While they are generally considered to be safe, they may cause side effects among certain categories of people.
- Blood pressure and sugar: Some research indicates that glucosamine may adversely affect your blood pressure. It may also cause insulin levels to rise in some cases. So, if you have these conditions, it would be wise to monitor blood pressure and sugar levels closely while taking glucosamine supplements.
- Digestive problems: Glucosamine supplements have been known to trigger nausea, heartburn, diarrhea, and constipation in some.
- Surgery: Because of its possible effects on blood sugar, it is recommended that you avoid glucosamine supplements at least 2 weeks before any surgery.
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding: There isn’t enough information on whether glucosamine is safe for use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
- Shellfish allergy: According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, glucosamine supplements are safe to have for people with shellfish allergies because they are made from the shells and don’t usually have the protein which triggers the allergic reaction. But you could play it safe and choose an alternative supplement without these ingredients to avoid any possible contamination.18 19 20
- Medical interactions: Glucosamine may also interact with certain medications such as blood thinners, certain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), insulin, or other blood sugar-lowering medicines, and certain cancer drugs. So have a word with your doctor before you start taking any supplements.21
|↑1, ↑6, ↑18, ↑21||Glucosamine. University of Maryland.|
|↑2||Glucosamine sulfate. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑3||Osteoarthritis. National Health Service.|
|↑4||Reginster, Jean Yves, Rita Deroisy, Lucio C. Rovati, Richard L. Lee, Eric Lejeune, Olivier Bruyere, Giampaolo Giacovelli, Yves Henrotin, Jane E. Dacre, and Christiane Gossett. “Long-term effects of glucosamine sulfate on osteoarthritis progression: a randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” The Lancet 357, no. 9252 (2001): 251-256.|
|↑5||Fransen, Marlene, Maria Agaliotis, Lillias Nairn, Milana Votrubec, Lisa Bridgett, Steve Su, Stephen Jan et al. “Glucosamine and chondroitin for knee osteoarthritis: a double-blind randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial evaluating single and combination regimens.” Annals of the rheumatic diseases 74, no. 5 (2015): 851-858.|
|↑7||Clegg, Daniel O., Domenic J. Reda, Crystal L. Harris, Marguerite A. Klein, James R. O’dell, Michele M. Hooper, John D. Bradley et al. “Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and the two in combination for painful knee osteoarthritis.” N engl j Med 2006, no. 354 (2006): 795-808.|
|↑8||Rheumatoid arthritis. National Health Service.|
|↑9||Nakamura H, Masuko K, Yudoh K, Kato T, Kamada T, Kawahara T. “Effects of glucosamine administration on patients with rheumatoid arthritis.” Rheumatol Int; 2007 Jan;27(3):213-8|
|↑10||What is inflammatory bowel disease?. Khan Academy.|
|↑11||Salvatore, S., R. Heuschkel, S. Tomlin, S. E. Davies, S. Edwards, J. A. Walker‐Smith, I. French, and S. H. Murch. “A pilot study of N‐acetyl glucosamine, a nutritional substrate for glycosaminoglycan synthesis, in paediatric chronic inflammatory bowel disease.” Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics 14, no. 12 (2000): 1567-1579.|
|↑12||Yomogida, Shin, Yuko Kojima, Yuko Tsutsumi-Ishii, Jian Hua, Koji Sakamoto, and Isao Nagaoka. “Glucosamine, a naturally occurring amino monosaccharide, suppresses dextran sulfate sodium-induced colitis in rats.” International journal of molecular medicine 22, no. 3 (2008): 317-323.|
|↑13||Glucosamine. University of Michigan.|
|↑14||Colorectal Cancer—Patient Version. National Cancer Institute.|
|↑15||Kantor, Elizabeth D., Xuehong Zhang, Kana Wu, Lisa B. Signorello, Andrew T. Chan, Charles S. Fuchs, and Edward L. Giovannucci. “Use of glucosamine and chondroitin supplements in relation to risk of colorectal cancer: Results from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals follow‐up study.” International journal of cancer 139, no. 9 (2016): 1949-1957.|
|↑16||Multiple sclerosis. National Health Service.|
|↑17||Shaygannejad, Vahid, Mohsen Janghorbani, Mohammad Reza Savoj, and Fereshteh Ashtari. “Effects of adjunct glucosamine sulfate on relapsing–remitting multiple sclerosis progression: Preliminary findings of a randomized, placebo-controlled trial.” Neurological research 32, no. 9 (2010): 981-985.|
|↑19||Glucosamine sulfate. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑20||SHELLFISH ALLERGY IS NOT A SHELL GAME. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.|