Although glucosamine sulfate can be an effective natural treatment for osteoarthritis pain relief, it is not the only effective means of treating this condition. In fact, using glucosamine sulfate with other medications may be a good way of repairing joints, reducing pain and treating osteoarthritis.
One of the first glucosamine sulfate studies compared the nutrient's effectiveness with that of conventional painkillers. In 1980, researchers at the First Medical Division in Venice, Italy, studied 30 elderly patients with advanced osteoarthritis. For three weeks, half the patients were given injections and pills of glucosamine sulfate; the other half received injections and pills of a standard painkiller.
At the end of the trial, both groups reported significant decrease in joint pain and improvement in joint function. But after all treatments were stopped, the glucosamine subjects continued to note improvements. The control subjects did not. Four patients in the glucosamine-treated group, in fact, became symptom free, but none in the control group did.
Thus, the researchers concluded, even in cases of severe degenerative joint disease, glucosamine sulfate reduces pain as well as painkilling pharmaceutical drugs.
Two years later, researchers at St. John's Hospital in Oporto, Portugal, compared glucosamine sulfate to ibuprofen. For eight weeks, 40 patients with osteoarthritis of the knees took daily doses of either 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine or 1,200 milligrams of ibuprofen.
In the first two weeks, ibuprofen seemed to relieve pain faster and better than glucosamine sulfate. But after two more weeks, no more improvements were reported by the ibuprofen camp. At the end of eight weeks, patients in the glucosamine group were reporting far less pain than those in the ibuprofen group and showed more significant improvements in joint function.
Another study comparing the two drugs followed 200 patients with osteoarthritis of the knees for four weeks. As in the previous study, one group got 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine a day; the other received daily doses of 1,200 milligrams of ibuprofen.
After one week, ibuprofen takers were feeling better than glucosamine patients. But by the second week, and notably by the fourth week, glucosamine patients said they felt just as good as ibuprofen patients. More important, researchers noted, 35 percent of people taking ibuprofen reported experiencing side effects, including nausea, itching, and fatigue. Only six percent of glucosamine patients reported mild stomach upset. Seven subjects had to stop taking ibuprofen because of toxicity; only one person in the glucosamine group had to pull out of the study.
The researchers concluded that glucosamine sulfate was, in some ways, more effective than conventional pain relievers in treating osteoarthritis patients. But, they noted, it could take two to three weeks of glucosamine therapy before a patient noticed results.
What Type of Glucosamine to Take
Glucosamine is found to some degree in most of the foods we eat, especially fish and meat. But no food is particularly rich in the nutrient, and most glucosamine appears to be destroyed by cooking.
That means you need to take glucosamine supplements to achieve medical benefits. Glucosamine is available in three varieties: the previously discussed glucosamine sulfate and glucosamine hydrochloride, and N-acetylglucosamine (NAG).
Some holistic practitioners insist that all three varieties of glucosamine are equally effective in relieving arthritis pain. This belief was largely found to be false with the publication of the Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006.
This study of 1,583 people with osteoarthritis of the knee found that glucosamine hydrochloride was practically useless. When glucosamine hydrochloride was combined with chondroitin sulfate, there was some benefit for more serious osteoarthritis pain, but glucosamine hydrochloride by itself should not be used. Further testing of the other varieties as well as comparisons of glucosamine sulfate and NAG are needed in order to assess the benefits of NAG.
Likewise, the usefulness of glucosamine sulfate preparations that also contain chondroitins is yet unclear. (Chondroitin is also produced by the body and helps cartilage retain fluid, keeping it spongy.) Nearly all the research has used glucosamine sulfate supplements alone, not in combination with chondroitins. A growing body of research suggests chondroitin sulfate is also effective, but it is still not as well-supported as glucosamine sulfate.
For individuals who need to restrict their sodium intake, glucosamine sulfate is available in a potassium-bound form; look for glucosamine sulfate potassium chloride.
A final important note is that even if you take glucosamine sulfate, it would be extremely wise to also take lifestyle steps to protect your joints. That means eating a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise and rest, keeping excess weight off, and, if possible, refraining from repetitive motions that put excessive stress on your joints.
Can Glucosamine Reverse Symptoms?
A review of two trials that have lasted three years found that overall, glucosamine sulfate does delay the worsening of osteoarthritis of the knee. These studies used X-rays to measure whether knees were deteriorating. Those participants who took 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate once a day had one-third to one-half the risk of worsening compared to those taking placebos.
In one completed study, samples obtained by scanning electron microscopy showed that cartilage taken from subjects who had used glucosamine sulfate appeared healthy and young.
No other treatment has been shown to prevent osteoarthritis from progressing. This puts glucosamine sulfate into a category by itself. Given its terrific safety record and the fact it's relatively inexpensive, people with osteoarthritis should definitely consider glucosamine sulfate when seeking treatment.
If you suffer from arthritis, ask a holistically oriented physician whether glucosamine might help you. It's possible that you and your doctor can come up with a therapy to reduce your symptoms, and perhaps even reverse them, without the risk of dangerous side effects.
Osteoarthritis can be a painful or even debilitating condition, but if you suffer from the symptoms of osteoarthritis, know that you are not alone -- and natural home remedies like glucosamine sulfate may be able to help.
For more information on understanding and treating arthritis, see:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- Visit our main Herbal Remedies page for information on all of our herbal remedies and the conditions they treat.
- Learn about more treatments for arthritis that are found around the house at Home Remedies for Arthritis.
- Find out which herbs may be helpful in treating arthritis when you visit our Herbal Remedies for Arthritis page.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Eric Yarnell, N.D., graduated from Bastyr University where he is now an assistant professor of botanical medicine. He is co-founder of the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine in Vancouver, BC. He serves as president and is a founding member of the Botanical Medicine Academy. Dr. Yarnell is chief financial officer of Healing Mountain Publishing, a provider of natural medicine textbooks, and vice president of Huron Botanicals. He previously served as chair of the department of botanical medicine at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and helped edit the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine. His published works include The A-Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions, Clinical Botanical Medicine, Naturopathic Gastroenterology, Naturopathic Urology and Men's Health, and The Natural Pharmacy. In his private practice he focuses on men's health, urology, and nephrology.ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS:Jeffrey Laign is a writer and editor with a special involvement in herbs and natural healing. An author of many magazine articles and books, including The Complete Book of Herbs, he has also been managing editor for Health Communications, Inc. Silena Heron, N.D., has been a naturopathic physician with a family health-care practice. A nationally recognized specialist in botanical medicine, she has taught throughout the West and Canada. She was founding chair of botanical medicine at Bastyr University and on the faculty for six years. Dr. Heron was the founding vice president of the Botanical Medicine Academy, an accrediting organization for the clinical use of herbal medicines.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.