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Supplements: Glucosamine

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Aug 10, 2016, 10:00:00 AM

Glucosamine 

Supplements Glucosamine

Glucosamine is a fairly popular dietary supplement which is marketed to athletes for preventing joint injury and helping to recover quicker for them. Looking up some data and reference points this seems to be a non-reproducible claim in bigger studies. I am personally not a doctor or statistician, so please do your own research, double check and consult a doctor before supplementing Glucosamine and come to your own personal opinion. I hope this write-up helps you down this path for a quick start. If you find any information, have comments or are a professional who stand to correct me, please leave a comment which will be reviewed, replied to and incorporated in the article to improve it.

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What is Glucosamine ?

Glucosamine is one of the most abundant monosaccharides on the planet. It is an amino sugar which can be found in the cell walls of fungi. It was first prepared in 1886 by Georg Ledderhose. For the purpose of this article, we will look at Glucosamine in its use as a dietary supplement.

The monosaccharide is mainly derived from shrimp, lobster, crab and other shellfish and ground in industrial processes to end up as  a supplement on the shelves of your local stores. It can be obtained as capsule, tablet, liquid or powder. There are also options which are free from shellfish in case you are allergic. Depending on the target group it comes in many packages and with a multitude of claims. These claims are mainly around easing joint pain or fastening up recovery in sports. In some instances, these products have additional ingredients like chondroitin sulfate, MSM, or shark cartilage chondroitin sulfate, MSM, or shark cartilage. 

When you find Glucosamine it usually comes in one of three variations:

  • Glucosamine sulfate
  • Glucosamine hydrochloride
  • N-acetylglucosamine

Most scientific research has been done on Glucosamine sulfate. Any statements which will follow therefore correlate most with the effects of Glucosamine sulfate.

What are the benefits of Glucosamine ?

Glucosamine products claim to have benefits for relieving joint pain and especially osteoarthritis. You will, for example, find them in your local hollands and barrets or boots showing a sore knee or elbow and that taking the product will get rid of the pain. 

While these are the claims by the ones who market the product it seems to be hard to establish prove in long-term studies that glucosamine is any better than placebo. As the evidence is mixed the natural medicines comprehensive database rates glucosamine is likely effective to relief pain from Osteoarthritis. There is evidence, however, that Glucosamine has no effect in feeling less pain for osteoarthritis in the knee, the one effect I would be most interested in as a runner which would render it useless for this target group.

What are the risks of Glucosamine ?

Glucosamine is stated to be generally safe at doses of 1500mg a day. If mild side effects occur they are usually described as:

  • Upset stomach
  • heartburn
  • drowsiness
  • headache

Also if you have one of the following conditions please always consult a doctor before taking Glucosamine as a dietary supplement:

  • shellfish allergies
  • diabetes
  • kidney disease
  • heart disease
  • bleeding disorders
  • high blood pressure

There are proven severe interactions with warfarin. Warfarin is an anticoagulant normally used in the prevention of thrombosis and thromboembolism, the formation of blood clots in the blood vessels and their migration elsewhere in the body.

In all fairness to Glucosamine, if you have one of these conditions, most of the times you have to check back for any kind of pill that you take with your doctor as you are in a higher risk group and probably on heavy medication to treat your current symptoms already. Usually, shellfish allergies relate to the flesh of the animals rather than the shell, which glucosamine is made of, however, there might be residue from the production progress that could lead to an allergic reaction. So to be sure if you are allergic, take one of the options which have not been made from shellfish. 

There was also evidence that  doses of 3000mg of glucosamine could lead to diabetes which has been shown in rodents. On both, the shellfish allergies and heightened risk of diabetes, an irish times report claimed that these were not sustainable. To be on the safe side opt for non shellfish Glucosamine and stay around 1500mg a day which has been found to be generally safe in bigger, well structured trials (well structured meaning there were control groups in place & bigger, randomised samples).

What is your personal experience of Glucosamine ?

I took Glucosamine when I had bursirtis in my elbow from too much bench pressing. The injury was not painful to begin with which lead to me postponing the visit to the doctor until I had a  tennis ball sized lump sticking out of my arm. That was in February 2015 and I took Glucosamine as I thought it would help me to recover quicker. I can not possibly say whether it had a positive effect. I stopped training enterily for that month and I think that was the greatest help for my recovery, rather than taking two pills of Glucosamine daily, based on what I have learned now.

What are the costs of Glucosamine ?

Glucosamine comes in many colours, forms and concentrations. You will usually pay between 5 to 50 bucks depending on what and how much you get.

Conclusion

All in all, Glucosamine seems to be genrally not that effective for what is claimed by the dietary industry. There are cases where companies are paying up for their false claims in the states. There are also voices that the concentration of 1500mg a day to rebuild tissue in the joints is 10 - 100 fold too low to have an effect. If you have a shellfish allergy or any other condition mentioned above be cautious and check for the labels and dependencies with your current medication. The purpose of rebuilding tissue and avoiding joint injury in sports can be achieved without dietary supplements by having a proper training plan, lifestyle choices and taking recovery measures like going to the sauna and proper stretching before and after working out. Please do not tread osteoarthritis with glucosamine, as this is a srious, chronic condition for which you should consult a doctor and take prescribed medicine which is monitored professionally.

 

Further Reading

 

Topics: Supplements