I often am asked, “Isn’t there anything else that can help me? What about that glucosamine stuff? Does that work?” So I thought… I owe it to myself and to my patients to figure out the real answer to this.
What are glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate? Glucosamine stimulates cartilage turnover in our joints, and chondroitin sulfate prevents other enzymes from degrading the “building blocks” from which cartilage is made. The supplements you can buy usually are animal products.
I hear that these relieve arthritis pain and rebuild cartilage. Is that true? These have been used in Europe for years. Both have some anti-inflammatory activity, so can help relieve pain. However, there is no proof that either or both changes the degeneration of cartilage or repairs or rebuilds it.
Can I use these instead of my current treatment? Nutritional supplements should be considered supplements; they are not replacements for healthy diet and exercise, and might not provide as much relief as proven treatments like medication and other therapies.
How do I take glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate? First, talk to your doctor about whether you should think about taking them. They might not be recommended for pregnant women and people with diabetes, for example. Also, do your research. Determine what the side effects and drug interactions are with other medication you might be taking.
Are all glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate sources the same? No, the FDA doesn’t regulate these supplements; the manufacturer only has to meet its own internal standards. If you have a bad reaction, stop taking the product and report this to your doctor immediately.
Bottom line is this: most doctors will not discourage you from using them, but there is no evidence that they will repair, rebuild, or restore cartilage. Investigate thoroughly, talk to your doctor, and use your discretion.