Glucosamine Sulfate stimulates connective tissue in a way that can help treat osteoarthritis. Glucosamine is a modified sugar molecule the body makes from glucose (blood sugar). Our bodies need glucosamine to function properly because glucosamine is a kind of building block for substances called mucopolysaccharides (MPSs), which are the major components of cartilage, bone, ligaments, nails, hair, and skin. Glucosamine stimulates connective tissue, encouraging it to repair itself. It is this property that makes glucosamine sulfate useful to treat osteoarthritis.
Think of glucosamine as a security guard whose mission it is to protect the tiny biochemical factories in your body called chondrocytes. Found largely in joints, chondrocytes produce collagen and other substances and assemble them into cartilage. Normally, glucosamine is on the job to see that orders are filled. But if you have arthritis, your chondrocytes cannot produce enough glucosamine, and degeneration results.
The chondrocytes begin to act as if they are under orders to destroy cartilage. And the "factory" just can't make enough new cartilage to replace what's lost. In severe joint damage, chondrocytes stop making glucosamine altogether.
There are several types of glucosamine available for purchase, and the differences among them occur because of what is chemically bonded to the base molucule. The two forms you're most likely to see in stores are glucosamine sulfate and glucosamine hydrochloride. Only glucosamine sulfate has shown any consistent activity and efficacy when used to treat osteoarthritis. Although glucosamine hydrochloride is cheaper, it is ineffective and should not be used.
There is considerable evidence that using glucosamine sulfate to treat osteoarthritis can prompt your body to flip a "switch" and convince the haywire chondrocytes to stop destroying cartilage -- and even begin to rebuild it.
How Glucosamine Works
Just how glucosamine sulfate convinces chondrocytes to stopping running amok is unclear.
What we do know from animal studies is that glucosamine sulfate works nothing like aspirin or other NSAIDs. Instead, it appears to function as a nutrient.
Most of the initial research on glucosamine sulfate was conducted in Europe, where pharmaceutical companies were quick to realize the nutrient's importance in treating arthritis. In fact, glucosamine sulfate has become the arthritis treatment of choice for many European physicians, who turn to conventional drugs only when glucosamine sulfate proves to be ineffective.
Throughout Portugal, for example, it's glucosamine sulfate you'll receive if your doctor hands you a diagnosis of arthritis. In 1982, more than 250 Portuguese doctors participated in a nationwide study to determine the supplement's effectiveness in treating arthritis.
The physicians gave 1,506 osteoarthritis patients a daily dose of 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate for six to eight weeks. In another group, 1,077 arthritis sufferers were treated with NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, or with corticosteroids.
At the end of the trial, 95 percent of patients in the glucosamine group showed marked improvement, compared to 70 percent of patients in the NSAIDs group. Consequently, the Portuguese doctors, as a group, rated glucosamine a better arthritis treatment than standard drugs.
Additional Glucosamine Sulfate Studies
In one of the best studies to date, 318 people in Spain who had osteoarthritis of the knee were randomly assigned to take glucosamine sulfate, acetaminophen, or placebo for six months. Those on the glucosamine sulfate regimen took 1,500 milligrams just once per day. Nevertheless, glucosamine sulfate was superior to acetaminophen and placebo at relieving the totality of symptoms and improving function.
In another experiment, scientists at Vigevano General Hospital in Pavia, Italy, studied 80 arthritis patients for 30 days. The subjects, all in their 60s, were suffering from osteoarthritis of the neck, lumbar (lower) spine, or multiple joints -- conditions that doctors find most difficult to treat.
Half the patients were given a daily dose of 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate; the other half got a sugar pill. At the end of the trial, 10 patients in the glucosamine sulfate group reported that their symptoms had disappeared. No one in the control group made such a claim.
Buoyed by the results of such experiments, more and more researchers have been testing glucosamine sulfate.
Among the more well-known studies:
- Researchers gave 24 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee either 500 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate three times a day or a placebo. In six to eight weeks, those who received the supplement enjoyed significant reductions in pain, joint tenderness, and swelling. They reported no side effects.
- Eighty osteoarthritis patients suffering from pain, swelling, and restricted movement were given either glucosamine sulfate or a placebo. After three weeks, 73 percent of patients in the glucosamine group reported marked improvement of symptoms. Scientists biopsied (surgically removed and examined a small amount of tissue) cartilage taken from the glucosamine patients, moreover, and found that the tissue appeared far healthier than samples taken from the placebo group.
- Researchers at several clinics in Germany and Italy set out to determine the effectiveness of glucosamine sulfate. The test group was composed of 141 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. One group received a placebo. The other got 1,500 milligrams a day of glucosamine sulfate. After four weeks, 55 percent of glucosamine-taking patients noted improvements, compared to 38 percent in the placebo group.
Some osteoarthritis patients may benefit from taking glucosamine supplements in combination with other pain relief and treatments for osteoarthritis. Learn more on the next page.
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.
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.