If you have chronic joint pain, you’ve probably heard that a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement can help. You may even have a friend that swears by a supplement that they are taking and you’re wondering if you should give it a try. Experts disagree about this supplement and past studies have had mixed results, however, many people report they feel better when taking them and here’s why:
What is Glucosamine & Chondroitin?
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are part of what makes up the cartilage in your body. They are the building blocks for cartilage and appear to stimulate the body to make more cartilage. These supplements are thought to help slow down or prevent the degeneration of joint cartilage. Glucosamine and chondroitin may also help alleviate existing joint pain.
You can find glucosamine and chondroitin (often sold together in one supplement) at pharmacies and health food stores without a prescription.
What Does The Research Say?
Research and past studies are conflicting. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “ Research results suggest that chondroitin isn’t helpful for pain from osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. It’s unclear whether glucosamine helps with osteoarthritis knee pain or whether either supplement lessens osteoarthritis pain in other joints” (1). A 2010 study found that the supplement was no better than a placebo (2), and a 2016 study was stopped short due to some participants actually feeling worse after taking the supplements.
However, according to Mayoclinic, research on the use of glucosamine sulfate (not chondroitin) for osteoarthritis of knee, hip, or spine and glucosamine hydrochloride for rheumatoid arthritis may provide some pain relief. Yet, researchers didn’t find any improvement in inflammation or painful joints (5).
All this being said, many people report a reduction in chronic joint pain and discomfort when taking glucosamine and/or chondroitin supplements and there just isn’t enough evidence for us to know for sure if this supplement can significantly reduce pain or inflammation.
Are There Side Effects?
In general, this supplement is thought to be safe. No serious side effects have been reported in large studies of people taking glucosamine and chondroitin, or both for up to 3 years (1). That being said, as with any medication, there are potential side effects. According to Harvard Medical School, the most common reported side effects have been diarrhea and abdominal pain. Other side effects reported include: (4)
- Allergic reactions (especially if you are allergic to shellfish)
Further warnings regarding glucosamine and chondroitin:
- It may interact with the anticoagulant (blood-thinning) drug warfarin (Coumadin), so consult your doctor if you are on this medication (1).
- It might affect the way your body handles sugar, especially if you have diabetes or other blood sugar problems, such as insulin resistance or impaired glucose tolerance (1).
- It may increase the risk of glaucoma, according to a small 2013 study (3).
- Glucosamine may worsen asthma (5).
As I tell my health coaching clients, the best way to see if something works is to try it (with your doctor’s approval) for three months and see if you have a reduction in pain. There are a lot of supplements out there and you may need to experiment with several before you find one that may work for you. Read labels carefully and use the right form, depending on the type of joint pain that you have, as some studies have shown that different forms are more helpful than others.