Glucosamine & Chondroitin Sulfate
Osteoarthritis is becoming much more common in the United States with about 30 million Americans suffering from pain and swelling in the joints from wear and tear occurring to the cartilage. People have looked to alternative therapies besides surgery in search for relief.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate are naturally occurring components of your normal cartilage. They are over the counter supplements that are derived from animal products. Because they are already found in your body, there are very few side effects or allergies to these meds and they can be taken with your other medications.
Generally, these supplements are used to help relieve arthritis pain. There are no studies that prove that they build new cartilage or take away arthritis, but they do seem to lessen the symptoms of pain and swelling in most patients. They may also have some anti-inflammatory effect as well as aiding cartilage repair. I tell patients that they may act to slow down the degradation of the cartilage; however there are no long-term studies that prove this statement.
These supplements are not controlled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so there is some discrepancy between brands. Stick with a name brand variety as these companies have participated in the research and have some assurance that "they have what they say they have" in the bottle. There are studies that show many brands do not contain the amounts shown on the label. Ask your pharmacist about these more reliable brands, although they are generally more expensive.
- Talk to your doctor to see if you have arthritis and if these supplements may help you. They are probably not indicated in pregnant people and have not been tested in diabetics.
- Continue other treatments including exercise, medications, diet as appropriate, and other therapies. These should remain complementary to good health practices. Plan on taking these for at least two months to see if they will work for you. This recommendation comes from the research studies and not from the manufacturers.
- Buy from a reputable company – ask your pharmacist for guidance in this area so that you make sure you’re getting good supplements.
- If side effects or problems arise, stop taking the product and consult your physician.
- In my practice, these supplements have worked better in younger patients with early arthritis; however some of my older patients with severe arthritis have gotten significant pain relief especially when they are really trying to avoid surgery because of medical concerns.
This information comes from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons patient information sheet about Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate.