Glucosamine

For decades we have been agnostic about the use of glucosamine for arthritis. Some readers praised this dietary supplement while others denounced it. We remember when New York Times health columnist Jane Brody reported that glucosamine and chondroitin made a different in her life:

“PERSONAL HEALTH: The Arthritis is at Bay, Thank You”

The New York Times, Jan. 13, 1998
by Jane E. Brody.

“THE two questions I was asked most often in 1997 were ”Is that dietary supplement still helping your arthritic knees?” and ”Are there results yet from the studies being done on this side of the Atlantic?”

“Fourteen months ago, following my arthritic spaniel’s dramatic improvement upon taking a supplement containing two substances that play a role in the formation of cartilage, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, I decided to try the stuff myself. Two months later, ignoring bemused queries like ”Are you barking yet?” I reported about a 30 percent improvement — not an absence of pain and stiffness, but less of them and little or no swelling after activities like tennis and ice skating that gave my knees a workout.

“Now a year later my dog and I are still taking the supplement, though at lower daily doses. My dog, who will be 13 in June, is free of pain and stiffness. He walks two hours a day, goes up and down stairs easily and regularly climbs a mountain road with me. I continue to play singles tennis two to four times a week and skate four or five times a week, and I have added a daily three-and-a-half-mile brisk walk to my activities.”

We found Jane Brody’s account compelling, but not scientific. Over the years we have heard similar stories from our readers. Here is just the latest:

Glucosamine for Arthritis:

Q. I read your column about someone with joint pain in his hips, knees, wrists and spine. I told a colleague I had similar pains. He said he had, too, and that he’d told his physician.

His doctor suggested an over-the-counter glucosamine tablet after each meal. My colleague got the desired relief when he did this.

I tried it too, and my pains have not returned. We recommend glucosamine to anyone who is not allergic to the pills.

A. Glucosamine has been a controversial dietary supplement for arthritis for decades. The Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT) concluded that:

“Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate alone or in combination did not reduce pain effectively in the overall group of patients with osteoarthritis of the knee” (New England Journal of Medicine, Feb. 23, 2006).

What Does Recent Research Report?

More recent research has found that that a crystalline glucosamine sulfate formulation is equivalent to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen (Current Medical Research and Opinion, June, 2016).

This crystalline form of glucosamine appears to work better than acetaminophen (International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases, online March 23, 2017). Dogs and Glucosamine:

More Dog Stories:

Not everyone believes shaggy dog stories. We know that pet lovers may see what they want to see. That said, we do find these stories interesting:

L.M.C. in Missouri loves her dog:

“I have a Yorkie that has a birth defect. Her back legs are fused at the joints and they only bend in the hip area. I put her on people glucosamine and chondroitin. To be specific, I get Osteo Bi-Flex. I make a powder out of it (I just feel like this might get it all to absorb better).

“I have noticed that if I quit giving it to her she slows way down in the house. Outside she will just sit down and not walk a step. When she gets the glucosamine and chondroitin she runs all over the yard.

“I had taken her as a pup to a specialist and he suggested giving her what we take because we know it works. I didn’t feel like he thought much of the doggy stuff. She is now 16 and I find it so amazing she can still walk at all. My husband and I thought from the time she was a pup that she would soon be in a wheelchair. I know that if not for giving her the osteoporosis Bi-Flex she would have been. This stuff is amazing!”

We would never suggest that a pet be given a drug designed for humans. But veterinarians can recommend formulas that might be appropriate for dogs.

S.J.S. also tried natural supplements for her dog:

“We had a shepherd/retriever mix who was diagnosed with hip dysplasia (only 25% of ball in socket) at 7 years of age. Rimadyl was suggested but I wanted to try natural supplements first.

“I used a glucosamine/hydrochloride supplement, alfalfa (natural diuretic for water on joints), and an Omega 3 complex. She lived until 15.

“On another note, she was diagnosed with liver disease at 11 years and we were told she would only live maybe another 6 months. I started her on a milk thistle supplement and she lived for four more years and her liver tests improved every one of those years.”

Kath in Australia has this story to share:

“My 10 year old Rottie (close to 60 Kg) has been on Glucosamine for about 8 years. He has the ‘normal’ human capsules without Chondroitin. That’s because our vet 8 years ago suggested plain Glucosamine was better than the combination.

“He started on Glucosamine, after needing bilateral anterior cruciate ligament repairs (one on each knee) after falling into a trench a lazy builder left in our yard. He was on daily anti-inflammatory meds before but after about a month on Glucosamine, he was a new dog. Only occasionally did he need meloxicam (Metacam in Australia).

“Despite recent research, I have no doubt that Glucosamine made a huge difference to my boy, significantly improving his quality of life and the need for medication was substantially reduced.”

Again, we encourage people with pets to always consult a veterinarian before trying such tactics. Some people have reported allergic reactions and other health problems after trying glucosamine.

You can learn more about glucosamine for arthritis and other non-drug approaches to managing inflammation andĀ pain in our online Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis. It is a 50+ pageĀ online resource. Here is a link to our library of guides.

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  1. David Haddon
    Reply

    Back in the late 1990s my knee joints were so painful that I could hardly take a day’s hike in the Trinity Alps without immobilizing pain. I started taking glucosamine but quit when it didn’t help within a month or two. Then I heard that since it is not an analgesic, it works to renew joint tissue, and this takes time. So I persisted with it for several months and gradually gained relief. By the early 2000s I was able to backpack with a 35 pound pack with not problem from my knee joints.

    In addition, at times I have run out of glucosamine (with MSM or glucosamine sulfate; I don’t use the chondroitin), and delayed getting a new supply for a month or two. Sooner or later, the joint pain comes back, and I resupply. Anecdotal? Of course, but I’m a believer: glucosamine for my joints, Jesus for my soul. :+)

  2. Carol
    Wisconsin
    Reply

    Luke is right (see previous post). Glucosamine has a lot of side effects and interactions with some other medications and herbs. My mom learned that the hard way. It made her heart arrhythmia worse, and made her bleed more easily. People with asthma, or who are pregnant, or who have lot of other common conditions should not take it, nor is it recommended for kids under the age of 18. Even pets, since they are smaller, like children, probably shouldn’t take it long term. I can’t take it because it can cause cataracts to grow faster and also makes dry eyes worse. Our vet said that if we use it with our older cat, not to use it for a long time. The following Mayo Clinic article is helpful in deciding whether to take glucosamine or not. It works well for a friend of mine, so I’m not suggesting that it’s ineffective. But please read this Mayo Clinic article. It may help you decide.

    http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/glucosamine/safety/hrb-20059572

  3. jack l
    Glenview IL
    Reply

    I take a spoonful of natural honey every morning along with a swig or mouthful of apple cider vinegar along with the 1500 strength capsule of glucose & chondroiton

  4. Dorothy
    Virginia
    Reply

    My 80-year-old husband and I have taken glucosamine with chondroitin for as long as it has been available and every time we stop taking it, we get knee problems.

    Years ago, we had a small dog who developed leg problems and could no longer jump up into her favorite chair.After taking glucosamine with chondroitin, she was pain free and could jump into her chair again.

  5. Joe
    West Melbourne Fl
    Reply

    I have arthritis in both shoulders. Certain movements would cause a clicking type sound with some pain. I started to take “Move Free” and now the same movement has a more “squishy” type sound with much less pain.

  6. Jessie
    Sioux Falls, SD
    Reply

    I’ve read that glucosamine in any form interferes with the absorption of insulin, a concern for diabetics. Most brands and doctors don’t tell you this.

  7. Jim
    Winchester, VA
    Reply

    Emphasis needs to be given to the form of glucosamine used. Hearing many reports from People’s Pharmacy over the years, it seems that positive results for glucosamine use glucosamine SULFATE while less positive results come from the use of glucosamine hydrochloride. The GAIT trial used glucosamine hydrochloride, and failed to get positive results. PP cites above a 2016 study with a very positive result where “a crystalline glucosamine SULFATE formulation is equivalent to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen.” Medline Plus specifies that glucosamine SULFATE is “Likely effective for” osteoarthritis, but glucosamine hydrochloride has “Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for” osteoarthritis.

  8. Virginia
    Reply

    A doctor told me a story about how many years ago, when it was thought that glucosamine was ineffective, his mother insisted on taking despite his disapproval. He told her she was wasting her money. She claimed the arthritis in her hands was dramatically helped when she took it.

    Later, the doctor found there was some research pointing to glucosamines effectiveness in small joints. So, the small joint of dogs and hands would benefit, whereas human knees may not.

  9. Garry TM
    Kentucky
    Reply

    Back in the 1980s, there was a survey with over 2 thousand veterinarians responding. 85% of respondents reported good to excellent results with Glucosamine. Glucosamine was first used by horse racing veterinarians. With the big money involved in treating thoroughbreds, I’m sure the vets didn’t fool around with things that did not produce results.

    Concerning the study showing glucosamine to be ineffective on knees, a subsequent study demonstrated effectiveness providing 2000 mg. was taken in a single dose. The usual 1500 mg. in divided doses was not effective for the knees. Using the single dose 2000 mg. my knees healed up nicely over a few weeks.

    When I was in my fifties I was diagnosed with arthritis. Taking the usual 1500 mg. daily gradually eliminated all symptoms. I do not take or recommend chondroitin. Little is absorbed and what is absorbed may end up residing in the prostate. It is not known to cause any issues with the prostate but on the other hand who wants an aberrant substance where it does not belong.

  10. Luke
    Reply

    Glucosamine raised my mom’s cholesterol levels sky high so she quit taking it and eventually it went back down again. I don’t know what is in it but it is not without side effects.

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