What is it?
Like so many other things that are good for us, we produce glucosamine in our bodies. This essential amino sugar, as well as some others literally holds everything together. Tendons, skin, mucous membranes, ligaments, cartilage, and the fluid in our joints all rely on them to stay lubricated and function as they should. Glucosamine especially benefits bodybuilders because they continually stress out their joints. Also, most people contract osteoarthritis at some point in their lives, and glucosamine restores mobility and eases the pain when taken regularly.
Cartilage pads the ends of bones so that when they rub together it won’t just be bone against bone. Arthritis, overusing, and other joint stressors wear the cartilage down causing joint pain. Studies show that glucosamine actually helps rebuild cartilage, something that was thought impossible for years. Its healing properties also help calm wounds and produce synovial fluid which lubricates joints as well as providing them with nourishment. Without lubrication and healthy cartilage these joints become dried out, swollen, inflamed, and painful.
In the 1980s glucosamine became a popular supplement in Europe, but Americans were slow to embrace it. Gradually the word spread and we now find it on many health food and pharmacy shelves and of course on numerous websites. Glucosamine is often combined with chondroitin, MSM, and EFAs, which we cover in separate articles.
Natural supplements become increasingly popular and important as more and more pain relieving drugs bite the dust. Prescription anti-inflammatory medication proved dangerous for hearts and digestive systems, and now the FDA requires special labeling on over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin. Most of these meds when prescribed by doctors are known as NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or COX-2 inhibitors. They take a heavy toll on many stomachs. The naturally occurring glucosamine doesn’t include these negative aspects and studies show it to be safe and without side effects.
Another plus for glucosamine is the fact that we absorb it quickly. The molecules making it up are so small that it enters the bloodstream and starts its building and healing almost immediately. Animals are equally prone to joint pain as they age and glucosamine also benefits our pet companions.
To sum it all up, glucosamine stimulates the production of synovial fluid which keeps our underlying skeleton well lubricated, builds new cartilage as the original dries out and even disappears, eases joint pain, restores mobility, and just generally maintains joint health.
What Makes it Work
Two of the cartilage builders, glycosaminoglycans, glycoproteins, and proteoglycans are the culprits when it comes to aging or damaged joints. When we remain on a moderate exercise routine the body manufactures enough of them to keep that cartilage lubricated and ready to support all those joints, ligaments, tendons, and other components of our musco-skeletal frames. Trouble steps in when we workout or train excessively, get older, or inherit genetically passed on problems. In other words most of us need more glucosamine. Those conditions among others make it important to supplement with glucosamine so we can avoid some of the pain and remain as mobile as possible into our senior years.
We need always remember that everything in our bodies is connected and it’s up to us to keep things in good working order. We live in a marvelous age that allows us to improve on Mother Nature by using so many of the fine protein powders and other supplements that are now at our disposal.
Who Should Use it?
Nearly everyone will benefit from using glucosamine supplementation at some point in their lives. As we mentioned most of us contract arthritis causing us to stiffen and experience pain. Additionally bodybuilders and other hard training athletes put even more strain on their joints, causing the cartilage to dry out, crack, and eventually disappear. At the same time they’re stressing out their muscles and all the connective tissues. Let’s look at some specific instances where glucosamine helps us:
- Bodybuilders – these people constantly stress their muscles, joints, and wear down cartilage as they weight train and do other exercises. Glucosamine effectively helps repair damage in all these areas as well as building a new and healthy structure
- Arthritis sufferers – joints, cartilage, connective tissue, and synovial fluid all deteriorate with the onset of osteoarthritis, which by the way can occur at any age. Before glucosamine supplements came along most people relied on pain medication
- Athletes – not only bodybuilders and weight trainers, but everyone that exercises puts extra strain on joints and other “framework”. Exercise in some has a sort of “Catch 22″ quality to it… it’s both good for us and it can cause us pain
- Other conditions – Glucosamine has been tested in a number of conditions and many studies continue. Many of these don’t show conclusive medical evidence, but tribal knowledge supports its use for a number of illnesses or conditions including AIDS and other immuno-deficient diseases, migraine headache, sports injuries, congestive heart failure, diabetes, depression, all sorts of joint pain, including fibromyalgia, spondylosis and osteoporosis, and healing of sores
It should be noted that glucosamine tests especially well in arthritis of the knee and hips, but the benefits certainly aren’t limited to those large joints.
Forms of Glucosamine
Glucosamine either alone or in combination with chondroitin or other supplements is most often taken in pill or capsule form. However, it also comes as a liquid. Many people believe that liquid supplementation is best whenever possible as it enters the bloodstream more quickly. If you prefer pills, once the levels are built up maintaining your dosage will stabilize them. It would be ideal to inject it directly into the affected joints, however so far this isn’t an option for self-administration.
Ever since glucosamine began catching on in the US we’ve seen countless brands producing it. With so many choices, picking the right product may seem daunting. Needless to say your goal should be to find the purest and most cost effective. That means among other things reading labels. For one thing glucosamine comes in different strengths.
The recommended dosage is generally 1,000 to 1,500mg per day. Some prescribe much higher doses. So if you decide to buy capsules and pick up a bottle that contains 500mg in each, you’d need to take a minimum of 2 per day. However if you found some that were 1,000mg each, one might do it. When you’re looking at costs, be sure to take the dosage and strength into account to determine exactly how much you’d need to spend per month.
As for quality, if you see a brand name that you aren’t familiar with, find out all you can about the company. You can learn a lot by visiting their websites. Also see what other ingredients are combined with glucosamine. Chondroitin, MSM, and omega 3 fatty acids all work well with glucosamine. If you see things listed that you aren’t familiar with, read about them before you spend your money. Also beware of fillers that do nothing. You want to get the most for your dollars, but you don’t want to buy something just because it’s cheap. By the same token you don’t want to buy a product and assume it’s the best just because it costs the most. As with vitamins, protein powders, and other supplements it’s important to use common sense as well as taking some time to research them. In addition to the Internet, talk with people who use glucosamine, your trainer or coach, health care professionals, nutritionists, and knowledgeable people working in the field of supplementation.
People have been using glucosamine for years now and in general it’s proven very safe to use with few side effects. As with anything, including food, too much usually isn’t a good thing. Unless someone knowledgeable and qualified to give advice, stick to the labeled instructions. It often takes weeks before you realize the positive effects of it so don’t be in a hurry and give up before it has a chance to work.
When you take aspirin, acetaminophen, NSAIDS, or COX-2 inhibitors, which are all prescribed for joint pain, you’re merely masking the pain. At the same time you’re also risking permanent damage to your gastrointestinal system. Glucosamine, in addition to occurring naturally in our bodies rather than acting like a foreign invader, also heals rather than just covering up the discomfort. The fact that it builds cartilage and provides lubrication for damaged joints, makes a strong argument for replacing all those drugs with it. There are however some specific conditions that you should be aware of if you’re considering trying it. Some of them are:
- Lactating or pregnant women – there is no definitive proof that glucosamine will harm mother or baby, but it may be best to avoid during that time.
- Shellfish allergies – since many glucosamine products come from shellfish, be sure to check with your doctor before trying it. Chances are good that you’ll be fine since glucosamine comes from a part of the shell that doesn’t normally cause a reaction like the meaty portion does. Also some manufacturers take it from vegetable products. The bottom line is that you should exercise common sense and learn all you can about different brands of glucosamine.
- Diabetes – if you’re diabetic, we encourage you to speak with your doctor or nutritionist before taking glucosamine. Since it’s a type of sugar, it’s possible, although not definite, that it could cause changes in insulin levels.
- Skin – glucosamine helps produce hyaluronic acid in the blood, which is crucial to healing injuries, including surgical incisions. Some believe it also slows wrinkling because of its lubricating properties.
Unlike some newer products, glucosamine has been used in numerous clinical trials. That’s because it’s one of the older supplements out there. These studies show over and over again that glucosamine safely helps hundreds of thousands of people. One of the greatest things going for it is that like amino acids and proteins, it occurs naturally in our bodies. When we supplement with these products we’re not introducing harmful foreign substances into our systems.
Disclaimer: These uses are suggestions resulting from various studies. They are not to be considered medical advice. If you experience symptoms related to these conditions or wish to improve any functions, don’t do so without consulting a healthcare professional.
Types of Glucosamine
We most commonly see glucosamine sold as glucosamine sulfate or salt and this form has been the most widely studied and tested.
Another that we hear about sometimes is n-acetyl glucosamine, which has produced positive results for some people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), certain ulcers, or Crohn’s disease. That’s because this type of glucosamine aids in production of mucous. Many gastrointestinal diseases and conditions occur because the lining in the digestive tract stops protecting the system for various reasons, including just drying out.
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) regulates drugs in the US. Although glucosamine is an approved medical treatment in Europe, so far it’s still considered a supplement here and therefore not subject to FDA scrutiny. Whether you believe this to be good or bad news, you should at least be aware that this fact allows manufacturers to add unnecessary ingredients and greatly vary strengths. That just means it’s another good reason to read labels and know what you’re getting for your money.