What are glucosamine and chondroitin?
Glucosamine and chondroitin are part of normal
cartilage. Cartilage acts as a cushion between the
bones in a joint.
Glucosamine, also called chitosamine, is a
natural substance that is found in the covering of shellfish. It is available
in different forms, including glucosamine hydrochloride, N-acetyl-glucosamine
(NAG), and glucosamine sulfate, which is a combination of glucosamine and
mineral salt. Glucosamine is also available in synthetic forms. The body
absorbs glucosamine well.
Chondroitin can come from natural
sources, such as shark or bovine cartilage, or it can be made in a lab.
Chondroitin is also known as chondroitin sulfate, chondroitin sulfuric acid,
and chonsurid. Chondroitin sulfate is a combination of chondroitin and mineral
Glucosamine and chondroitin are available in tablet,
capsule, powder, or liquid form and are often taken in combination with each
other or in combination with other dietary supplements. Glucosamine may be
taken separately as a dietary supplement for joints.
What are glucosamine and chondroitin used for?
Many people take glucosamine and chondroitin, alone or together, for
osteoarthritis. Some people believe this helps. But an analysis of studies looking at glucosamine or chondroitin for osteoarthritis in the hip or knee did not
show that these supplements slow joint destruction or relieve pain.1
Are glucosamine and chondroitin safe?
It appears that glucosamine and chondroitin, alone or
together, are safe and have few side effects. But they cost money and may not
help you. Talk to your doctor if your are thinking about taking glucosamine and
If you are allergic to shellfish, do not take
glucosamine unless you have discussed it with your doctor. Some glucosamine is
made from shellfish covering.
The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way it
regulates medicines. A dietary supplement can be sold with limited or no
research on how well it works.
Always tell your doctor if you are
using a dietary supplement or if you are thinking about combining a dietary
supplement with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to
forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on a dietary
supplement. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or
When using dietary supplements, keep in mind the
Wandel S, et al. (2010). Effects of glucosamine, chondroitin, or placebo in patients with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee: Network meta-analysis. BMJ. Published online September 16, 2010 (doi:10.1136/bmj.c4675).
April 9, 2013
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
& Stanford M. Shoor, MD - Rheumatology
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