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Glucosamine & Chondroitin Explained*

For nearly 27 million people with osteoarthritis today, glucosamine and chondroitin probably sound pretty familiar. Their effectiveness is often debated, and many are skeptical to try them. However, results of a recent study conducted by the National Institute of Health, called the Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT), help to answer questions about the long debated duo.

While they are commonly used as dietary supplements, both glucosamine and chondroitin are substances that already occur naturally in the body. Glucosamine is an amino sugar that plays a role in cartilage formation and repair. Chondroitin sulfate is already part of human cartilage. Glucosamine supplements are often derived from crab, lobster or shrimp shells, while chondroitin sulfate is usually taken from animal cartilage, such as shark.

Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements are intended for those with osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs due to the breakdown of the rubbery cartilage that covers the ends of the bones. The rubbery cartilage allows for gliding movement and cushioning in the joint. When cartilage breakdown occurs, it can lead to pain, swelling, stiffness and problems using the joint.

For many with osteoarthritis, specifically osteoarthritis of the knee, the outcomes of the GAIT study have provided some modest good news. Some study participants with moderate to severe osteoarthritis of the knee reported significant pain relief. The study concluded that maximum benefit was achieved when the dietary supplements were taken together versus either supplement taken alone.

HAP-affiliated rheumatologist, Delfin Santos, M.D. of Rochester Hills, states that, "Medical management is not the only strategy for managing arthritis. Participating in joint friendly exercise programs, consuming a healthy diet and maintaining your ideal weight all play a role in successfully managing osteoarthritis. Supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin can serve as a beneficial addition to your treatment plan, if taken properly.” Dr. Santos encourages patients to speak with their physicians regarding the addition of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to their treatment regime. He also points out, "Many patients stop taking supplements if they have not noticed a difference within a short period of time. It may take several weeks for supplements to reach their full therapeutic effect. If desired results are not achieved within six to eight weeks of continuous use, discontinue taking the supplements.”

The supplements are available in a variety of forms ranging from pills to juice drinks, giving consumers the opportunity to try the supplement in the form that works best for them. While the reported side effects of these supplements have been mild, it is always wise to check with your physician prior to beginning or discontinuing any treatments as they may interact with other medications or medical conditions. Dietary supplements are not formally tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), although their labeling is monitored.

Keep the following tips in mind when buying dietary supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate:

  1. Check with your doctor first to determine if adding a supplement to your treatment regime is appropriate.
  2. Choose products that are manufactured by well known companies.
  3. Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist to recommend a particular brand they are familiar with.
  4. If a particular brand of supplement is working for you, be consistent in using the same brand. Since supplements are not monitored by the FDA, the content and strength of each brand can vary, which can produce different results.
  5. Do not stop taking your current prescription medications without consent from your doctor.
  6. If you experience any unusual side effects, discontinue taking the supplement and talk with your doctor immediately.

To learn more about glucosamine and chondroitin, call Arthritis Answers™ at 1-800-968-3030 and request your free copy of the brochure entitled Glucosamine & Chondroitin Sulfate. Individual copies of the annual Supplement Guide are also available free of charge to those who call. Arthritis Answers™ is a community information and referral program brought to you by the Arthritis Foundation Michigan Chapter.

*Please note that these supplements are "over the counter” and not covered by your insurance.

Author: Kara Dorda
Manager, Arthritis Answers™
Arthritis Foundation, Michigan Chapter


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