Glucosamine and Chondroitin for Arthritis

What’s all the fuss?

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Many people have heard about glucosamine and chondroitin for osteoarthritis treatment. But are they effective at relieving pain and stiffness? Read more to find out.

Osteoarthritis and the associated symptoms can be debilitating. While there are many treatments to choose from, many are ineffective. Chondroitin and glucosamine is a popular supplement that boasts to relieve joint pain. However, the research is actually more mixed than popularly reported. It is essential to understand the research glucosamine and chondroitin to better understand how effective it is.

Glucosamine

What is Glucosamine and Chondroitin?

Glucosamine and chondroitin, often referred to as chondroitin sulfate, are naturally occurring compounds found in the body. Chondroitin is usually found in cartilage around joints but can also be made in the lab. It can be taken by mouth for osteoarthritis or used as eye drops for dry eyes and cataract surgery.

Glucosamine is another compound naturally found in cartilage. It can also be harvested from shells of shellfish or made in the lab. It can also be taken orally and has been implicated in the treatment of arthritis.

Research on Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Osteoarthritis is caused by overuse, which in turn causes degenerative changes in the bone and cartilage of the joint. Current treatment consists of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and supportive rehabilitation, like exercise. While these medications are over the counter, they are not without their risks. Newer research has focused on medications with lower risk profiles, called symptomatic slow-acting drugs (SYSADOAs). Glucosamine and chondroitin are SYSADOAs.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally occurring compounds in the body. Theoretically, they are thought to be absorbed by the body and then traverse to the joints. They are considered to slow the rate of degeneration in the joint. However, different studies have conflicted as to their actual effectiveness when used for osteoarthritis.

Results of this Research

One review combined the many randomized clinical trials associated with glucosamine and chondroitin to organize and analyze the data. Overall, the researchers analyzed 7,172 participants in the meta-analysis with knee osteoarthritis. They found that glucosamine actually had no effect on pain compared to the placebo treatment. In other words, glucosamine was ineffective in relieving pain. However, it was slightly effective in reducing stiffness.

Chondroitin was more effective in reducing pain than the placebo drug. However, it was not effective in reducing stiffness. Additionally, glucosamine, in combination with chondroitin, also showed no effect compared to placebo treatment in regards to pain scores.

Overall, the researchers in this study concluded that oral chondroitin was more effective in relieving pain than the placebo. Glucosamine, on the other hand, was not more effective at pain relief and only marginally better at relieving stiffness. They concluded that they needed further studies on glucosamine and chondroitin combination therapy to better assess its effectiveness in the treatment of osteoarthritis.

Summary

Glucosamine and chondroitin are only slightly effective for osteoarthritis symptoms. Glucosamine is somewhat more effective at reducing stiffness than the placebo treatment, and chondroitin is more effective at reducing pain. Still, the Osteoarthritis Research Society International guidelines have not included it in the treatment parameters. Currently, there is not enough evidence for physician societies to definitively recommend either of these treatments.

Frequently Asked Questions about Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Generally, glucosamine is safe and well-tolerated. There is a risk of allergic reaction. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Chondroitin has also been shown to be safe. Like glucosamine, chondroitin is also associated with stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea. It has also been associated with headaches and irregular heartbeat.

Physicians recommend the combination of exercise, weight loss, self-management programs, tai chi, cane use, topical NSAIDs, and glucocorticoid injections. They also state that some people may benefit from balance exercises and cognitive behavioral therapy.

The cost of these medications depends on the brand and the number of pills. Tablets containing both glucosamine and chondroitin can be found for around $16 for 150 tablets. Chondroitin can be found on its own for about $15 for 120 pills. Glucosamine can be found for about $13 for 150 capsules. It is important to note that vitamins and supplements are not regulated by a government body to ensure their purity and efficacy. This means that these pills may not always be reliable or may not contain a high enough dosage to make a difference.

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Meet Dr. Paul Norio Morton

Dr. Paul Norio Morton, MD is a board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon in hip and knee surgery, specializing in robotic joint replacements, complex joint reconstruction, sports injuries, and trauma. Reach out to him to learn more about treatment options for your problem.

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