Nutritional Supplements

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Your doctor has provided this information to answer some of the questions you may have about nutritional supplements that may be linked to improved joint health. The possible beneficial effects of glucosamine and chondroitin, two popular supplements for patients with joint pain, have been making news in recent years. This information is intended to help you better understand who might benefit from the supplements and why.

What are glucosamine and chondroitin?

Glucosamine and chondroitin are actually two different molecules found in healthy joint cartilage. The medical theory behind taking these supplements is that they would help the body repair cartilage that has been broken down by osteoarthritis (the most common "wear-and-tear" form of arthritis). Some popular glucosamine supplements are derived from shellfish; chondroitin supplements are often derived from shark or cattle. Both can also be made synthetically. The supplements are sold and packaged much in the same way vitamins are. Like vitamins, they are not subject to review or approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Do glucosamine and chondroitin help reduce arthritis pain?

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tentatively concluded that no studies to date have linked glucosamine and chondroitin to a reduced risk of developing osteoarthritis1, a large study administered by the National Institutes of Health has shown that glucosamine and chondroitin, when taken together, significantly reduce pain in patients with moderate-to-severe osteoarthritis of the knee.2 In fact, the study showed that people taking the supplements experienced the same amount of pain relief as people who took non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)3 – long the go-to medication for people with arthritis pain. What sounds even better, treatment with glucosamine and chondroitin supplements has not been associated with any side effects. NSAIDs, on the other hand, have been associated with gastrointestinal side effects, including bleeding.3

Make a Plan with Your Doctor

Don't assume that your doctor will not take your interest in nutritional supplements seriously. Many doctors understand how some supplements can complement your current arthritis treatment plan.4 Your doctor can also help you determine if a particular supplement is right for you given your overall health. Your doctor can also help monitor the effectiveness of your supplement regimen.

A Word of Caution

Because vitamins and other nutritional supplements are not monitored by any federal agency to assure purity or dosage, you'll want to do your homework before you purchase or consume anything. Look for a familiar, reputable brand name. If you have questions about the product, write to the manufacturer for more information. Ask your doctor about his or her experience with the supplement. And, most importantly, if you experience any adverse reactions, stop taking the supplement and call your doctor right away.