Glucosamine and chondroitin are medications commonly prescribed for the treatment of arthritis. They are sold in the form of supplements and referred to as glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate respectively. Cartilage, which is a thick tissue that covers the ends of bones, gets damaged in those people diagnosed with arthritis. As we all know, a joint is a part of the body where 2 or more bones meet. The cartilage prevents friction of bones, thus allowing free movement of joints.
In arthritis, the joints and bones do not function properly. Combination of glucosamine and chondroitin helps to restore normal joint function. These medicines can prevent further deterioration of the cartilage, by retaining the structure of this smooth material (cartilage). They decrease the inflammation associated with arthritis. Inclusion of glucosamine supplements in the diet can also help to relieve and control the joint pain.
To be specific, glucosamine is found to be effective in treating osteoarthritis. It can play a crucial role in healing damaged cartilage. Most importantly, glucosamine is found to be useful in renewing cartilage. This is because an important constituent of cartilage is glycosaminoglycans that cannot be made without glucosamine. Hence, taking glucosamine supplements can certainly contribute to alleviate symptoms of osteoarthritis. On the other hand, chondroitin (a polysaccharide) is also an important constituent of the tissues of the cartilage.
It prevents cartilage from becoming dry as it displays water retaining properties. Inadequate presence of water in cartilage is one of the primary reasons behind joint pain. Chondroitin essentially draws fluid (high in nutrients) to the cartilage. This helps to keep the cartilage tissue healthy and prevent its degeneration. More importantly, it restricts the activity of certain enzymes that are known to damage cartilage. Be it relieving OA discomfort, improving the movement of joints or decreasing the stiffness and swelling of the joints, glucosamine and chondroitin supplements definitely work to treat OA effectively.
According to Newton's law, 'To every action, there is always an equal and opposite force of reaction'. The same is applicable to these medicines. Although glucosamine and chondroitin have been beneficial for relieving symptoms of osteoarthritis, few side effects can occur with the use of these medications. They are listed below:
- Constipation or Diarrhea
- Gastrointestinal problems such as upset stomach
- Soft stools
Although the side effects of these medications are bothersome but definitely not serious. So far, studies have not revealed any life-threatening side effects which is good news for the medical fraternity and patients alike. However, diabetics taking these medicines should be carefully monitored as the supplements may lead to an increase in insulin levels.
Glucosamine available in supplemental form is actually obtained from the flesh of shellfish, so people allergic to shellfish should not take these dietary supplements. Symptoms of an allergic reaction are distressing and include itching, swollen lips, a skin rash or difficulty in breathing. People suffering from asthma, high blood pressure or prostate cancer should also consult a doctor before using these medicines. Oral dosage of glucosamine taken in combination with chondroitin can vary from 400 mg to 1200 mg per day.
Just because the existing dosage is not working, one should not take it more than recommended without consulting your health care provider. Some studies suggest that excess dosage can impair the functioning of the pancreas. As the pancreas do the job of producing insulin that regulates blood sugar, damage to this organ increases the likelihood of diabetes.
Glucosamine when taken alone can give rise to mild but bothersome side effects. Glucosamine side effects include headaches, diarrhea and drowsiness. The most common side effect of chondroitin, when it is consumed separately is hair loss. Other chondroitin side effects include heart palpitations, swollen ankles or eyelids. Although the side effects of glucosamine and chondroitin might not appear serious, immediate medical attention is essential to avert further complications. In most cases, the doctor suggests to reduce the dose or may even recommend to discontinue the medication entirely.
One of the best ways to minimize the side effect of these medicines is to take them during meals. This way of taking the medicine along with meals can work wonders to keep side effects such as gastric trouble and nausea at bay.
Before allowing the patient to take these medication for osteoarthritis, it is extremely important for the doctor to know whether the person is taking any other prescribed medicines. Both glucosamine and chondroitin can interact with other prescription drugs to cause health problems. Certain chemotherapy drugs like teniposide, diabetic medications and acetaminophen are known to cause serious drug interactions with glucosamine supplements. A person taking chemotherapy drugs along with these supplements is likely to suffer from internal bleeding. Chondroitin is also not very effective when taken with other medicines.