Dietary supplements are both commonplace and pretty controversial. Legally, they cannot be marketed to treat any condition or disease, but they can still have significant health benefits.
Take Vitamin C, for example. It’s a known antioxidant that protects your cells against free radicals, and it can be very useful in fighting off cold symptoms. However, manufacturers cannot claim that it treats any condition or illness.
So, what does this have to do with glucosamine and your arthritis?
Well, their situations are very similar. Glucosamine is a dietary supplement that naturally occurs in our cartilage, and it’s essential for healthy joints. Several studies even claim that glucosamine has been shown to slow the spread of osteoarthritis and relieve general arthritis pain. However, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, it’s unclear whether this supplement actually improves your condition at all.
Thus, because there is little comprehensive research and evidence into this supplement, we can’t give a definitive answer on whether or not glucosamine helps, which leads us to the real question we want to ask:
Can it hurt to take glucosamine?
In this article, we’ll first discuss what glucosamine is and why people believe it works. We’ll then examine whether or not it’s right for your specific health condition.
What is Glucosamine?
Glucosamine is an amino sugar used to build cartilage — the smooth, rubber-like tissue found in between our joints. Besides the fact that it naturally occurs in our bodies, it can be sold as a dietary supplement you can take orally. The supplement is made from the shells of shellfish or from the fermentation of vegetables and is not classified as a prescription drug. You can pick it up at your local health food store.
How Effective is Glucosamine in Treating Arthritis?
People who use this supplement believe that, because glucosamine is a vital part of growing and maintaining cartilage, it will help slow cartilage deterioration, reduce pain, and improve range of motion in joints. But the truth is that we don’t know definitively how arthritis is impacted by glucosamine. It’s simply not scientifically proven. However, we can’t deny the extensive anecdotal evidence from the people who swear by its benefits — but only for certain types of arthritis.
Known as the “wear and tear” disease, osteoarthritis is the degeneration of joint cartilage and is the most common form of arthritis. This degradation affects the entire joint. Because glucosamine directly relates to the growth and maintenance of cartilage, believers claim that by taking glucosamine orally, it helps protect the integrity and structure of your joint cartilage.
Technically an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) arises when your immune system attacks your own body, specifically the membranes that surround your joints. There is hardly any scientific evidence that glucosamine doesn’t work for RA, but one study did conclude that although the supplement had no direct antirheumatic effects, it seems to have some impact on the symptoms of RA.
The Different Forms of Glucosamine
Glucosamine comes in several different forms, but unlike other supplements, it’s important to know exactly which kind it is. You cannot exchange one for another.
- Glucosamine Sulfate Potassium: This is the only supplement to take if you test the effects of glucosamine on your arthritis. Some versions may have the potassium left out of the name, but it’s still the same. Out of all three different types here, this is the most studied variety and is claimed to be the most effective.
- Glucosamine Hydrochloride: There isn’t enough evidence yet to determine whether this version is effective in doing anything for arthritis. It may work, but it’s better if you stick with the sulfate variety.
- N-Acetyl Glucosamine: This supplement is used to help relieve the symptoms of autoimmune diseases, except for RA.
Should You Take Glucosamine Supplements?
If you suffer from osteoarthritis, you might be seriously considering testing out glucosamine. But you also must be wondering if there are any side effects of taking it. Essentially, can it hurt to take this supplement?
Our opinion: Glucosamine is generally safe to take. There have been no serious side effects discovered in the tests that have been conducted. It’s only considered controversial because no one can prove whether it actually improves or slows the development of arthritis.
However, if you do decide to try it out, you should inform your doctor prior because glucosamine can impact some of your other health issues:
- It can negatively interact with the blood thinner, warfarin.
- It might interact with acetaminophen and reduce both medicine’s effectiveness.
- It might raise blood sugar levels.
- It might also worsen asthma.
What if Glucosamine is Not the Right Treatment for You?
What should you do if you’ve tried glucosamine, and it didn’t work or if it’s just not the right fit for your condition? Luckily, there are many other scientifically proven options available, including:
- Joint injections with steroid
- Joint injections with Hyaluronic Acid (viscosupplementation)
- Regenerative Medicine
- Radiofrequency ablation
Whether or not glucosamine can really help you, what matters is that you have options when it comes to finding pain relief for your arthritis.