Glucosamine supplements, often taken with chondroitin, have seen increased popularity over the years because of their reputation for easing painful joints and increasing range of motion. If you frequent any sports forums, you’ll find footballers, rugby players and body builders discussing the merits of this supplement.
But do they really work – or are the claims just hype generated by supplement companies to boost their sales?
Glucosamine is usually recommended for people who suffer with osteoarthritis or for athletes who have sustained overuse injuries. Since many athletes also suffer with osteoarthritis, there is some overlap between these groups.
In osteoarthritis, joint cartilage breaks down faster than it can be repaired, there is a narrowing of the space between the bones which meet at the joint, and the bones of the joints themselves are subject to damaging chemical change. A considerable level of pain, inflammation and a reduced range of motion can be experienced as a result. Osteoarthritis tends to get worse with age.
Both professional and recreational athletes may experience osteoarthritis regardless of their age, and have a greater risk of developing it in any of their joints that have sustained injury. Those athletes that don’t suffer with osteoarthritis will still often experience a level of joint pain as a result of strenuous training.
Glucosamine is an amino sugar produced naturally by the body. The body uses Glucosamine to make a range of other substances required for building cartilage, ligaments, tendonsand the fluid surrounding your joints which helps to cushion them.
Chondroitin sulfate is an essential component of cartilage. In a similar way to glucosamine, chondroitin helps to draw water to the joints so that they stay lubricated.
A substantial number of studies have been undertaken to investigate the effectiveness of Glucosamine and Chondroitin. The research suggests that taking glucosamine supplements may help with:
(a) boosting the cartilage and fluid around the joints, or
(b) preventing the breakdown of cartilage and fluid by inhibiting powerful enzymes that cause damage, or
(c) perhaps both.
A well-designed study carried out over three years that measured the narrowing of joint spaces in participants’ knees found that glucosamine sulfate effectively changed the structure of the tissue, causing those participants taking the supplement to experience reduced pain and a greater range of motion over the three year period.
The studies have also shown that people experiencing osteoarthritis in the knee or hand may benefit from chondroitin supplements and experience modest pain relief from taking them. Overall they suggest that glucosamine or chondroitin are better than a placebo at providing relief for joint discomfort. The studies are, however, limited to the impact of the supplements on arthritis and do not provide much insight for the effect of Glucosamine and Chondroitin on pain resulting from sports injuries.
Glucosamine can be bought as glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride or N-acetyl glucosamine . Some research suggests that the sulfate is significant, since sulfate is required by the body in order to make cartilage and sulfate depletion results in a decrease in glycosaminoglycan synthesis. Consequently, glucosamine sulfate is thought to be more effective than the other forms of glucosamine which don’t contain sulfate.
Glucosamine supplements are usually made from lobster, shrimp or crab shells although this does not usually cause a problem for allergy sufferers who are allergic to shellfish meat rather than the shell. Chondroitin sulfatesupplements are made fromanimal sources – often cow cartilage.
Although the research suggests that Glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate are beneficial for those experiencing the symptoms of osteoarthritis (including many athletes), very little research has been carried out into whether athletes suffering from normal joint pain can benefit, or whether the supplements can help athletes to recover from intense workouts. This doesn’t mean the supplements aren’t effective for those purposes – it just means that there isn’t enough evidence as yet to say conclusively whether they are or they aren’t. Many athletes use and endorse the supplements as beneficial and it is expected that future research will help to provide scientific backing for the benefits of using the supplements for these purposes.
Of particular interest, Glucosamine and Chondroitin have a far lower toxicity rate than the Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) that are often prescribed for joint pain and consequently, far less negative side effects.
It is strongly recommended that you speak to a doctor or healthcare professional before taking Glucosamine or any other new supplements, particularly if you are pregnant, diabetic, asthmatic or have a shellfish allergy.
This information was provided by Carly, a writer working with Nature’s Best. The company sell supplements including Glucosamine and Chondroitin. Unlike many other companies, Nature’s Best make all of their supplements here in the UK!
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