Glucosamine is a naturally occurring compound that is widely used as a nutritional supplement for osteoarthritis. This compound is produced from chitin, which is found in the shells of arthropods and crustaceans, like crabs, lobsters, and shrimp. Know more about glucosamine, and how it can help relieve the painful symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Glucosamine is a naturally occurring amino sugar. It is an important component of the cartilage of the joints, and is synthesized from glucose and glutamine with the help of the enzyme glucosamine synthetase. This compound is also required for the formation of skin, bones, eyes, hair, and body tissues.
It can be found as a component of chitosan and chitin, which form the exoskeleton of arthropods and crustaceans, and the cell wall of fungi. In fact, these are the sources for the commercial production of this compound. This compound can also be produced from the fermentation of corn or wheat.
It was first prepared by Dr. Georg Ledderhose in 1876. He produced this compound by the hydrolysis of chitin with concentrated hydrochloric acid. It is naturally made as glucosamine-6-phosphate, which acts as the precursor of all sugars that contain nitrogen.
Effectiveness in Treating Osteoarthritis
In the human body, the main function of this compound is to act as the precursor of glycosaminoglycans, which are an important constituent of the cartilage of joints. Cartilage acts as a cushion and a lubricating material that provides protection to the joints. However, the body’s natural ability to produce glucosamine reduces with advancing age due to a shortage of the enzyme glucosamine synthetase.
This compound is mainly used in the treatment of osteoarthritis, a group of diseases caused by the damage or loss of cartilage. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage of the joints loses its elasticity and becomes stiff, which in turn causes pain, inflammation, tenderness, creaking, and locking of joints.
As glucosamine is a precursor of glycosaminoglycans, it is thought to be helpful in rebuilding the cartilage of the joints. This is the reason why it is widely used as a nutritional supplement. It is generally combined with chondroitin sulfate, a compound found to be effective in improving elasticity of the cartilage and preventing its progressive destruction. Chondroitin is supposed to be effective in increasing the efficacy of glucosamine. The efficacy of this compound is also believed to increase if it is taken with vitamin C, magnesium, and bromelain. Sometimes, it can also be found with methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) in nutritional supplements.
However, a lot of controversies exist regarding the effectiveness of this supplement in treating osteoarthritis, especially osteoarthritis of the knee. Some studies have shown that it can have substantial effects not only in reducing the pain and stiffness associated with knee osteoarthritis, but also in slowing down the progression of this condition.
An important study was carried out by the National Institute of Health to find out the efficacy of glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin among a group of knee osteoarthritis patients. Both the compounds, alone or combined, have not been found to be very effective in reducing knee pain among the group of patients. However, in the above study, glucosamine hydrochloride was used instead of glucosamine sulfate.
The short-term use of this supplement has not been found to cause any severe side effects. Sometimes, drowsiness, insomnia, and digestive ailments like pain in the abdomen, constipation, heartburn, diarrhea, and vomiting can be experienced by some people. But people allergic to shellfish are usually advised to avoid this compound, as it is made from their shells. However, the allergens responsible for producing an allergic reaction are actually found in the flesh of shellfish and not in their shells.
This supplement is usually not prescribed to people who have bleeding disorders, and are taking anti-clotting or anti-platelet medications. This compound and its supplements are presumed to have an adverse effect on the insulin, blood sugar, and hemoglobin levels, particularly in insulin-resistant or diabetic patients. In addition to these, pregnant and breastfeeding women are also advised to refrain from using it.
This compound has been approved as a medical drug in Europe. But in the United States, it has been classified as a dietary supplement by the Food and Drug Administration. The results of the various clinical tests carried out to discover the potential of using glucosamine in medical therapy are conflicting in nature, which have given rise to many controversies. Therefore, some concrete studies are the need of the hour to find out whether this compound is really effective in treating osteoarthritis.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.