Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Glucosamine and Chondroitin: Put to the Test for Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting 16 to 20 million American adults. Caused by injury or the wear and tear on joints that occurs with aging, osteoarthritis has no cure.

Thinning of the cartilage surrounding the bones leads to increased friction, degeneration, and pain. While conventional treatments like nonsteroidal painkillers help ease that pain, two natural substances, glucosamine and chondroitin, show promise of slowing or stopping cartilage destruction.

More than 20 human clinical studies support the use of these supplements and now the National Institutes of Health is studying glucosamine and chondroitin to find out if they can stand up to claims.

Dr. Jason Theodosakis is quite sure they will, having popularized the benefits of this natural therapy in his bestseller, The Arthritis Cure (St. Martin's Press, 1997). Below are answers to some frequently asked questions he hears:

Q: When would I take glucosamine and chondroitin?

A: Most people take glucosamine and chondroitin because they have joint pain, have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, or just feel sort of creaky. A lot of people complain as they get older that it takes them a little while to get up and out of a chair. That's usually a sign of osteoarthritis. Those are the best candidates for glucosamine and chondroitin.

Q: Can I take glucosamine and chondroitin to prevent arthritis?

A: No. I don't recommend glucosamine and chondroitin as a preventive agent if you had no joint pain or problems. However, if you've had an injury, if you've had surgery, if the doctor tells you that you have osteoarthritis-I think that's the time to take glucosamine and chondroitin.

Q: Are there side effects?

A: Most glucosamine and chondroitin users report no side effects, but about five percent have some stomach upset. So far glucosamine and chondroitin have not been found to interact with any other medications, so people can take their anti-inflammatory pills, or their heart medicine, and still take these supplements. It has not been studied in children, pregnant women, or women who are nursing.

Q: How will I know glucosamine and chondroitin are working?

A: You tend to be able to do more. You move easier, and your pain is less. And most people end up stopping their pain medication. So they may be on Advil or Tylenol for a long period of time, and they suddenly realize they don't need it anymore.