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Supplement Guide: Glucosamine

Could this supplement help you find relief from achy muscles and joints?

Where it comes from: “Glucosamine is synthesized in the body from glucose and glutamine from cells that form cartilage (called chondrocytes),” explains Sari Greaves, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and Nutrition Director at Step Ahead Weight Loss Center in Bedminster, NJ. There are no food sources but supplements are available.

What it’ll do for you: Glucosamine supplements have recently gained popularity as a safe alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS—like aspirin and ibuprofen) for decreasing pain and inflammation and keeping joints healthy by providing strength and elasticity. A 2006 study reported that 79 percent of men who took 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine and 1,200 mg chondroitin daily felt a significant reduction in chronic knee pain. Glucosamine-chondroitin supplements have been found to take longer to work than NSAIDS, but have fewer side effects and last longer.

“Preliminary evidence suggests that glucosamine may improve symptoms of osteoarthritis, especially when combined with chondroitin,” says Greaves (Chondroitin helps cartilage retain water so it stays flexible.) However, overall evidence from controlled human research studies have produced conflicting results.

In 2010, Norwegian researchers randomly assigned 250 patients with chronic low-back pain to daily glucosamine or a placebo for at least six months. At the start, all the patients took a standard test, measuring the level of their back pain. Six months later they took the test again. The group taking the supplements and the group taking the placebo showed the exact same amount of improvement. A year after the study started, there was still no significant difference.

While glucosamine supplements may help with pain relief, there is little evidence demonstrating that the supplements can repair damaged tendons and ligaments from sports-related injuries. Therefore, the supplements are not a solution, but rather a temporary Band-Aid.

Suggested intake: Glucosamine is available in tablets, capsule or powders. Manufacturers suggest taking 1,500 mg daily, divided into three doses.

Associated risks/scrutiny: Glucosamine supplements are derived from shellfish and should be avoided if you are allergic to shellfish. There is also some concern regarding glucosamine and blood-sugar control. To be safe, people with diabetes should have blood-sugar levels monitored.

“While effective in decreasing pain and inflammation, these anti-inflammatory drugs have been associated with gastrointestinal complications and cartilage degeneration, making alternative treatments desirable,” warns Greaves.

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