Is glucosamine really the miracle cure that so many arthritis sufferers swear by? Caitlin Reid investigates.
What is glucosamine?
Glucosamine occurs naturally in the body, where it helps form and repair the cartilage which protects the ends of the bones, allowing them to move smoothly against each other. Glucosamine supplements come in two forms – glucosamine sulphate and glucosamine hydrochloride. The supplements are usually created using the shells of prawns and other crustaceans, though there is a maize variety which is suitable for people with shellfish allergies and vegetarians.
What do supplements do?
Glucosamine is used to help treat osteoarthritis, which causes a breakdown of cartilage around the joints. It's thought that glucosamine supplements can relieve the pain associated with cartilage breakdown and slow the loss of cartilage for people who suffer from osteoarthritis (1.3 million Australians).
What does research say?
Clinical trials have shown mixed results using glucosamine to treat arthritis. However, there is some evidence that it may reduce pain in osteoarthritis of the knee and may slow the progression of the disease and rebuild damaged cartilage. Choice magazine recently reported that eight of the most rigorous clinical trials "failed to find any benefits" although it didn't discount that glucosamine may have a placebo effect, as many arthritis sufferers report relief from taking glucosamine.
The research shows that the glucosamine hydrochloride form is not as effective as glucosamine sulphate in relieving pain, and its role in preventing cartilage breakdown has not been fully assessed. A combination of glucosamine and chondroitin may work better than glucosamine alone. One study found the combination effective in reducing moderate to severe knee pain.
Arthritis Australia's view
Arthritis Australia says that, despite the conflicting studies, the use of glucosamine sulphate may be beneficial for some people with osteoarthritis. If you decide to take glucosamine, speak to a doctor or pharmacist.
Supplements aren't the only option for relieving the pain of osteoarthritis. Low-impact exercise and weight loss have both been shown to be effective.
Do your own trial of glucosamine sulphate. Choose reputable brands like Blackmores and Bioglan that contain a 1500mg dose and allow 8-12 weeks to see any results. If there's no benefit, give it away.