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Glucosamine Benefits the Body in 4 Major Ways — Do You Have Enough?

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Glucosamine - Dr. Axe

Although it may have a well-deserved reputation as one of the top arthritis supplements on the market, glucosamine does far more than just relieve joint pain. In fact, research shows that this superstar supplement boasts benefits ranging from decreased inflammation to better gut health.

And not only is glucosamine extensively studied and widely available in both pharmacies and health food stores alike, but it also ranks as one of the safest supplements available, even when used over the span of several months or even years.

So what is glucosamine and just how can it help heal your body and restore your health? Let’s take a look at what you need to know about this popular dietary supplement and whether or not it lives up to the hype.


What Is Glucosamine + How Does It Work?

Glucosamine is a compound naturally found within the cartilage of your joints, made from chains of sugars and proteins bound together. It acts as one of the body’s natural shock-absorbents and joint lubricants, allowing you to move around while minimizing joint, bone and muscle pain.

Glucosamine possesses powerful natural anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties. As one of the top natural supplements for arthritis, glucosamine is often used in the treatment of age-related bone and joint pain. (1) It is also used to help improve digestion and gut health, mobility, range of motion and general joint health, even in healthy people who have no chronic joint or digestive disorders.

Without glucosamine, everyday movements and tasks would be very difficult and painful. Your body needs glucosamine for the synthesis of certain proteins and fats that form important tissues such as cartilage. This plays an important part in the construction of your joints, tendons and ligaments. In addition, it helps form the fluids that surround the joints to provide lubrication, also known as synovial fluid.

Glucosamine is also vital for gut health as it serves an important role in the health of your microbiome, which has been shown to play a part in everything from chronic inflammation to disease development. (2) In fact, one study out of Australia showed that supplementation with glucosamine sulfate may alter the composition of the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which could have far-reaching effects on health and immunity. (3)

Although not every person with severe joint pain will benefit from glucosamine supplementation, many glucosamine reviews report finding relief from pain within just six to eight weeks. Many people also report quality of life improvements as a result of glucosamine supplementation, including natural relief from arthritis, better digestive health, decreased inflammation and less bone pain. It can be used safely long-term to combat signs of aging and improve overall quality of life, with little to no side effects or risks in most people.

So how does glucosamine work?

Most of the research done on glucosamine has looked specifically at the benefits of glucosamine sulfate, the natural chemical found in the human body. Researchers believe that using glucosamine supplements or obtaining it from natural sources like bone broth can increase the amount of cartilage and synovial fluid to help prevent joint breakdown and relieve pain. (4, 5)

Glucosamine is an aminosaccharide that helps create cartilage from compounds called aggrecan and proteoglycans. (6, 7) Since joint deterioration and loss of cartilage are common osteoarthritis triggers, it’s easy to see why glucosamine’s cartilage-building properties are important ways to naturally ease symptoms of the condition.

There’s no current recommended daily dosage for glucosamine, but most people do best when taking 500–1,500 milligrams daily, whether alone or in combination with other supplements like sulfate, omega-3s or in a MSM supplement. This dosage is often used to help:

  • lower inflammation and help reverse autoimmune reactions
  • preserve joint health
  • reduce joint pain and tenderness
  • protect and repair gut lining
  • fight irritation to the stomach, bladder and intestines
  • treat inflammatory bowel disease and leaky gut syndrome
  • rebuild tissue and stronger bones following fractures or injuries

Remember, the most commonly recommended form of glucosamine is glucosamine sulfate. The “sulfate” seems to play an important part in joint health because it helps the body produce cartilage. Glucosamine sulfate also appears to provide more of an impact than other forms of glucosamine, including glucosamine hydrochloride or N-acetyl glucosamine.


4 Glucosamine Benefits

  1. Improves Joint Health and Osteoarthritis
  2. Enhances Digestion and Eases Inflammatory Bowel Disorders
  3. Helps Relieve TMJ Symptoms
  4. Alleviates Bone Pain

1. Improves Joint Health and Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a disorder characterized by ongoing joint pain caused from years of accumulating pressure and friction places on joints. It’s the most common type of arthritis worldwide, effecting millions of people around the globe. (8) Glucosamine is one of the top supplements I recommend as part of a natural treatment approach for managing arthritis with diet and lifestyle changes.

Aging naturally impacts the strength and durability of our joints, causing cartilage loss and joint pain over time. It doesn’t improve symptoms 100 percent of the time, but compared to many other supplements like chondroitin, glucosamine consistently ranks as one of the most effective for treating arthritis discomfort. (9)

Osteoarthritis research shows it is a degenerative disease, so it becomes harder to move over the years as joint friction increases, and osteoarthritis cartilage issues can be painful. Studies and osteoarthritis research, including osteoarthritis randomized, placebo-controlled studies, show that taking about 800 to 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine daily can help millions of people suffering from degenerative joint diseases, preventing further damage, especially in commonly effected joints such as those in the knees and hips. (10) It has been shown to help offer relief from joint pain within 4–8 weeks, which might be longer than some prescriptions or over-the-counter pain killers, but it’s also a more natural and well-tolerated approach.

Glucosamine slows down deterioration of joints when used long-term and also offers other benefits that prescription painkillers cannot, such as reductions in chronic inflammation and improved digestive health. (11) The results of taking glucosamine can differ from person to person, but some long-term users often report pain relief that allows them to avoid surgeries and lower or eliminate the use of medications.

Supplemental glucosamine, whether used alone or in combination with other supplements like chondroitin supplements, is not a “cure all” guaranteed to help everyone, but major studies have found it can help many, especially those impacted most by arthritis. The Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT), which is considered the most comprehensive trial ever done involving glucosamine, found that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate used for eight weeks resulted in significant relief in the majority of study participants who had high amounts of joint pain. Many experienced improvements regarding their moderate-to-severe knee pain when using glucosamine for joints. (12)

 

Glucosamine - Dr. Axe

2. Enhances Digestion and Eases Inflammatory Bowel Disorders

Glucosamine is a helpful supplement for improving digestive function and repairing the lining of the GI tract. It’s even been shown to be an effective leaky gut supplement, combating a condition sometimes called “intestinal permeability,” in animal studies. (13) This condition involves undigested food particles and proteins (like gluten, toxins and microbes) passing into the bloodstream through tiny openings in the lining of the GI tract.

Once these particles enter the bloodstream, they often trigger inflammation or initiate or worsen immune responses in the body. These include food sensitivities, arthritis and autoimmune conditions. Research suggests that glucosamine supplements, or naturally glucosamine-rich bone broth, could help repair damaged tissue and lower inflammation related to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a condition that is notoriously painful and hard to treat. (14, 15) The supplement may also help repair the lining of the bladder and stomach and intestines.

In 2000, researchers from the University Department of Pediatric Gastroenterology at University College School of Medicine found that glucosamine was an effective, inexpensive and nontoxic supplement used for treating chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. They also showed that children affected by inflammatory bowel disease tend to have lower levels of glucosamine in the body. Interestingly, N-acetyl supplementation (GlcNAc) offered a mode of action distinct from conventional treatments, resulting in reduced symptoms in 75 percent of patients. (15)

The researchers found evidence of significant improvements in the majority of patients using glucosamine, even those who were unresponsive to other anti-inflammatory medications and antibiotics. Results showed improved integrity of the GI tract and restoration of healthy epithelial cell structures that helped decrease gut permeability.

3. Helps Relieve TMJ Symptoms

TMJ is a disorder related to the temporo-manibular joint in the jaw and is a common condition that affects young to middle-aged adults. TMJ impacts the joint that connects the jaw to the skull and allows for the head to move up and down, or side to side, normally without pain. This condition is characterized by frequent jaw and neck pains, headaches and trouble sleeping and is generally treated with bite guards, medications and physical therapy.

As the temporo-manibular joint becomes inflamed and worn down, pain gradually continues to worsen. This makes it harder to talk, eat and function normally. Studies suggest glucosamine helps ease TMJ symptoms and pain in people with arthritis that affects the jaw. In fact, one 2018 review out of Brazil showed that glucosamine was as effective as ibuprofen at relieving pain when taken over a 12-week period. (16) Taking 500 to 1500 milligrams of glucosamine daily for several months or years may help you sleep better, chew and heal while lowering inflammation in the jaw long-term.

4. Alleviates Bone Pain

Many people with bone pain, low bone density and a history of fractures can benefit from taking glucosamine, which also aids in bone healing. This is especially true if they also have chronic joint pain or a form of arthritis. Some evidence suggests that glucosamine helps preserve articular cartilage surrounding bones, decreases pain, increases physical function and enhances activities in people with bone disorders or those who are at most at risk for bone loss, such as middle-aged and older women. (17)

A 2013 animal model by the Department of Orthopedics and Traumatology at Haseki Training and Research Hospital in Turkey found that glucosamine helped speed up the time it took rats to heal from bone fractures. Researchers found that new bone formations and osteoblast linings were significantly higher in glucosamine-treated rats compared to those in control groups. After four weeks of taking 230 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate daily, the newly-formed bones that were previously fractured were stronger compared to controls. (18)


Glucosamine Side Effects

Since it’s already present within the human body, glucosamine is usually very safe and well-tolerated. Many studies have found that daily use of glucosamine can improve symptoms in adults with a very low risk of side effects. (19)

However, it can cause food allergy symptoms in those who have an allergy to the source used to make glucosamine supplements. If you have a known shellfish allergy, make sure to carefully check the label and ingredient information, as many supplements are derived from crustaceans.

Although rare, potential side effects of glucosamine supplements include indigestion, nausea, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, skin reactions and headaches. Research is limited on the effects of glucosamine on women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, so it’s best to avoid taking supplements during these times unless under medical supervision. There is also some evidence that glucosamine supplements in high doses might have the potential to cause changes in cholesterol, insulin resistance and blood sugar levels in people with diabetes or high cholesterol, so be careful if you fall into these categories and consider consulting with your doctor to address any concerns. (20)


Glucosamine in Ayurveda, TCM & Traditional Medicine

Holistic branches of medicine like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine recommend treating ailments and health issues using foods and herbs rather than over-the-counter medications. For this reason, glucosamine tablets are rarely recommended in these traditional forms of medicine.

However, including a few key glucosamine-rich foods in your diet can be a good alternative and an effective way to reduce joint pain. Bone broth, in particular, is high in glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, plus other important minerals that can help reduce joint pain and promote overall health.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, bone broth is said to strengthen and nourish the kidneys, liver, lungs and spleen. It’s also believed to help build blood and support the qi, which is considered the life force that flows through the body.

Meanwhile, bone broth is recommended on an Ayurvedic diet because it’s easily digestible and highly nutritious. Because of the concentrated anti-inflammatory properties found in glucosamine, bone broth is also thought to boost immune function and prevent digestive issues like leaky gut syndrome.


How to Use Glucosamine: Supplement Types & Dosages

Glucosamine supplements can be found in several forms, including:

  • glucosamine sulfate (aka glucosamine sulphate)
  • glucosamine hydrochloride
  • N-acetylglucosamine or acetylglucosamine

Glucosamine sulfate (or glucosamine sulphate) is considered the most beneficial and best oral glucosamine form because it’s easily absorbed and has been extensively researched. It also contains sulfate, which is required for the production and maintenance of cartilage. Glucosamine hydrochloride and N-acetylglucosamine, on the other hand, have not been as well-studied and are lacking the sulfate component necessary for cartilage production.

Below are recommended oral glucosamine dosage instructions for adults:

  • For improving joint health and lowering joint pain: 1,500 milligrams taken once daily (or 500 milligrams taken in three divided doses). You can use glucosamine in combination with other anti-inflammatory supplements, including turmeric and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • For easing arthritis/osteroarthritis symptoms: 1,500 milligrams daily taken with 400 milligrams of chondroitin sulfate. This amount can safely be used long-term for up 3 years. You can also use a topical cream containing 30 milligrams glucosamine, which you can apply to painful areas for up to 2 months at a time.
  • For improving digestive health: 1,500 milligrams taken daily. You might want to combine glucosamine with other helpful supplements known to boost gut health like MSM, licorice root, digestive enzymes or probiotics.

Glucosamine for Dogs

Besides helping ease joint pain and improving digestive health in older adults, glucosamine can also be used to improve the quality of life for your furry friends, too. In fact, it’s a common ingredient in both chews and capsules designed to help improve joint function in dogs as they start to get older.

Vets typically recommend starting off with a “loading dose” for a few weeks and then scaling down to a lower maintenance dose for long-term use. Although symptoms can start to improve over a period of just a few weeks, your dog can continue taking glucosamine even longer to further protect and preserve joint health with advanced age.

Joint supplements geared specifically towards older dogs often contain a mix of ingredients, including glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM. They are typically available over-the-counter but can be prescribed by your veterinarian as well.


Glucosamine vs. Chondroitin vs. Glutamine

Glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM are three of the most common supplements used to promote joint health, but there are several notable differences between them.

Like glucosamine, chondroitin is a naturally-occurring substance found in the connective tissue of your body. Chondroitin sulfate is a supplement that works like glucosamine to promote joint health and reduce inflammation. (21) Many joint health supplements combine glucosamine and chondroitin to take advantage of the unique health benefits of both.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a sulfur-containing compound that is found in the tissues of all living organisms. Similar to glucosamine, MSM can help improve immunity and decrease inflammation to alleviate joint pain. In addition to being found in supplements, MSM is also found in small amounts in fruits, tomatoes, tea and coffee.

Glutamine, on the other hand, is a type of essential amino acid required by the body. It’s often found in supplement form and is used to enhance weight loss, increase fat-burning and build muscle mass and strength. Much like glucosamine, it has been shown to reduce intestinal permeability to reduce inflammation and protect against conditions like leaky gut syndrome. (22)


History/Facts

Glucosamine was first identified in 1876 by German surgeon, Dr. Georg Ledderhose, who had been conducting experiments on cartilage in Strassburg. It took another 63 years, however, until the stereochemistry of the compound was determined by British chemist, Norman Haworth, the same scientist who received a Nobel prize for his research on carbohydrates and vitamin C.

Although it’s generally considered safe, glucosamine has not been approved for medical use in humans by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. For this reason, it is classified as a dietary supplement rather than a medication.

In most of Europe, however, glucosamine is approved for use as a medical drug and is often recommended as a safe treatment for conditions like osteoarthritis. In 2003, the European League Against Rheumatism updated their recommendations for the management and treatment of knee osteoarthritis by evaluating the safety of commonly used medications. Glucosamine was found to be one of the least toxic ingredients, scoring a 5 out of 100 in terms of toxicity. (23)


Precautions

Glucosamine is usually extracted from the shells of shellfish like lobsters, crab and shrimp. If you have a shellfish allergy, discuss with your doctor before taking glucosamine as it may trigger an allergic reaction and adverse glucosamine side effects. When side effects do occur, they are generally mild and include symptoms like indigestion, nausea, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, skin reactions and headaches.

Because the effects of glucosamine have not yet been studied in pregnant or breastfeeding women, it’s best to limit use unless under medical supervision. Additionally, if you’re taking any medications or have any underlying health conditions, it’s best to consult with your doctor before starting supplementation. Although glucosamine is generally considered safe for healthy adults, it may interact with medications like chemotherapy drugs, including etoposide, teniposide and doxorubicin.


Final Thoughts

  • Glucosamine is a compound naturally found within the cartilage of your joints.
  • It has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to improve joint health, enhance digestion, alleviate bone pain and reduce TMJ symptoms.
  • Glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM are common medications used to treat joint pain. They are often used alone or together as part of a joint health complex.
  • Chondroitin and glucosamine are also used in combination to reduce joint pain and improve quality of life in dogs as well.
  • You can also find glucosamine in some food sources, including bone broth, allowing you to take full advantage of the health-promoting properties of this powerful compound.

Read Next: Beef Bone Broth Recipe


From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.

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