What's So Good About Glucosamine?

Naturopathy
Apr 15, 2009
Naturopathy

Glucosamine is a natural sugar compound found in the body, essential in the creation and repair of joint cartilage.  It is taken as a supplement to alleviate the effects of osteoarthritis, particularly knee osteoarthritis, as it assists in the formation and repair of cartilage and other connective tissues.  Cartilage covers and protects the ends of the bones, allowing the free and smooth articulation of our limbs.  Production of glucosamine and cartilage regeneration slows with age, leading to the aches and pains commonly associated with aging.

The glucosamine supplements you buy in your local health store will have been manufactured from shellfish, typically the shells of shrimp, crab, or lobsters.  Many supplements marketed as a treatment for joint pain or chronic back pain contain glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate as the active ingredients.  Chondroitin gives cartilage elasticity and draws water and nutrients into the cartilage, keeping it healthy. Chondroitin is thought to increases the effectiveness of glucosamine.  In addition to nutritional supplements, glucosamine is also used in sports drinks and cosmetics.

What's good about it?

Glucosamine has been shown to:

  • Slow the progression of knee osteoarthritis
  • Provide pain relief for sufferers of osteoarthritis
  • Act as a natural alternative to conventional analgesics (pain relief) treatments such as paracetamol
  • Treat rheumatoid arthritis
  • Treat conditions linked to the deterioration of the digestive tract, for e.g. inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease
  • Help prevent the development of kidney stones, by reducing levels of crystal forming oxalates in our urine

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the loss of cartilage in the joints, often associated with ageing. Early symptoms of osteoarthritis include joint soreness after inactivity or overuse.  With aging, the water content of the cartilage increases, and cartilage degenerates flaking or forming tiny crevasses. In advanced cases, there is a total loss of cartilage cushion between the bones of the joints, causing friction between the bones, leading to pain and swelling. Repetitive use of worn joints over time can irritate and inflame the cartilage, which can lead to loss of movement of a joint.  Osteoarthritis occasionally can develop in multiple members of the same family, implying a hereditary/genetic basis for the condition. Weight reduction and avoiding activities that exert excessive stress on the joint cartilage are practical steps one can take to alleviate the associated pain.

Side effects

People with allergies to shellfish, or kosher adherents, should avoid glucosamine unless it has been confirmed that it is from a non-shellfish source.  Vegan/vegetarian glucosamine is available, and is manufactured from corn. Though it is safe to take glucosamine while on arthritis medication, it is not recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.  Common side effects associated with glucosamine include:

  • Abdominal pain or nausea
  • Temporary increase in blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increased risk of bleeding in certain patients
  • Gas and soft stools
  • Upset stomach
  • Drowsiness
  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Skin reactions
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Nail toughening

Dosage

Taking the correct dosage of glucosamine is thought to be vital, so consult your naturopath to be sure you are taking the recommended therapeutic amount.  It should be noted that the quality of glucosamine products sold is not necessarily identical with respect to dosage, so consult the packaging to determine the amount of glucosamine each tablet is delivering.  When purchasing your glucosamine supplement makes sure it is glucosamine sulfate and not glucosamine hydrochloride based.  The sulphate is more widely used and researched, while the hydrochloride form has been found to be less effective.  In addition, be aware that glucosamine in tablet form is sensitive to moisture. To counter this, and ensure maximum shelf life, manufacturers add sodium or potassium chloride to the tablet form.  Some will claim their product to be salt free when in fact they are only sodium free.

If you have joint pain or suspect you have arthritis or osteoarthritis consult your holistic doctor, nutritionist or naturopath.

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