Instances of osteoarthritis are on the increase: fact. But, when it comes to whether alternative therapies, lifestyle changes and supplements such as glucosamine can help to alleviate symptoms of the condition, the situation is less certain.
However, for many of the 8.75 million people 1 in the UK, aged over 45 – and the many more outside of that age group – who have sought treatment for osteoarthritis, the likes of acupuncture, a Mediterranean-style diet and supplements such as glucosamine play an important role in lessening the frequency and severity of painful flare-ups.
It’s perhaps the reason why glucosamine has become one of the most popular supplements in the UK.
What is glucosamine?
Glucosamine is a key supplement in joint health. It is needed to make glycosaminoglycans and glycoproteins, which are the building blocks of ligaments, tendons, synovial fluid and cartilage – cartilage being the cushioning tissue that sits between joints and prevents them rubbing together. It is believed to assist those with osteoarthritis by not only improving the health of damaged cartilage in the affected joint, but by delaying its breakdown.
There are two main forms of glucosamine: glucosamine hydrochloride and glucosamine sulphate. Glucosamine is a naturally occurring substance – produced by the body and derived from shrimp shells (vegan and vegetarian alternatives are available and made using corn or mushrooms).
Although glucosamine hydrochloride is believed to supply higher quantities of “free” glucosamine to the body, glucosamine sulphate that typically reports more positive results when used in clinical trials.
It is important to remember, though, that what might work for one person, won’t necessarily work for you so, if considering a glucosamine supplement, you may wish to trial both varieties for at least a month each before making your final decision. The recommended dose is 1,500mg for those with specific joint problems such as osteoarthritis, and 750mg as an insurance measure.
How can glucosamine alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms?
Taking a glucosamine supplement may help to delay the breakdown of and repair damaged cartilage, meaning there is more of that protective cushioning between joints to prevent them grinding together and causing pain, inflammation and swelling.
In a review articl 2 of 13 trials into the effectiveness of glucosamine sulphate, which lasted from three weeks to three years, seven studies found that use of the supplement, compared to a placebo, was significantly better at relieving osteoarthritic pain.
Glucosamine hydrochloride, too, has been shown 3 to reduce pain in adults – particularly when combined with chrondroitin – another important element of cartilage.
How? Healthspan’s medical director Dr Sarah Brewer explains: “As well as contributing to the formation of joint building blocks needed to make cartilage, tendons, ligaments and joint fluid, lucosamine acts as a biological signal to switch on the repair of these tissues and to suppress inflammation and the breakdown of cartilage . Production of glucosamine declines with age, contributing to joint deterioration. Research suggests that supplementing a healthy diet with glucosamine could help to ease joint pain and stiffness.”
What other factors contribute to osteoarthritis?
It is widely acknowledged that excess body weight, which puts joints under increased strain, can play a role in the severity and likelihood of flare-ups, while research published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research 4 has shown that walking at least 6,000 steps a day can protect against osteoarthritis-related mobility issues.
You may also wish to supplement to prevent other deficiencies: those with low levels of vitamin D 5 , selenium 6 or calcium 7 have all been shown to experience more pain and faster deterioration of joint health.
For more information on the lifestyle changes that can help alleviate osteoarthritis pain, read Healthy habits to ease osteoarthritis pain. If you’re interested in learning more about how to keep your joints healthy, head over to our advice centre for more information.