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Glucosamine: Effect, side effect, and studies.

Glucosamine: Effect, side effect, and studies. - Image by Daniel Waleczek from Pixabay
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Glucosamine is a component of connective tissue, synovial fluid, and cartilage. Glucosamine can support the building and maintenance of body tissues.

Due to normal aging processes and in the context of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, there is a breakdown of cartilage and connective tissue. As a result, pain and restricted movement can occur. 

Is glucosamine harmful? Glucosamine is getting contained in many dietary supplements because of its effect. The substance has long been getting thought to have a preventive or soothing effect on joint pain. Whether the essence helps or is a placebo effect, you can find out the state of the science.

Glucosamine – the body’s self substance

What is glucosamine good for? Glucosamine, also called D-glucosamine, is an active substance that belongs to the group of amino sugars. It happens naturally in the human body as a component of connective tissue, cartilage, and synovial fluid. Glucosamine has cartilage-building, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving properties. 

Therefore, the main application of glucosamine is the treatment of joint diseases such as osteoarthritis. It is a sign of wear and tear in which the natural cartilage mass is getting reduced. The knee joint, the big toe joint, and the finger joints are frequently affected.

Glucosamine is available over the counter in pharmacies for the treatment of osteoarthritis. Glucosamine is often present in these preparations as sulfateglucosamine hemisulfateD-glucosamine sulfate, or hydrochloride. In addition, it is usually getting combined with the active ingredient chondroitin.

Industrially produced glucosamine is often getting obtained from the substance chitin. It is getting derived from crustaceans such as crabs or shrimp.

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The effect of glucosamine can be harmful to health.

Glucosamine occurs naturally in the joints of the human body. For dietary supplements, the substance is getting extracted from shellfish.

If you suffer from joint problems, you should consult a doctor and not start self-treatment with glucosamine-containing preparations. A positive effect of the substance has not been getting proven.

For most people, the intake of glucosamine is harmless from a health point of view. However, since it alters blood sugar levels, we should not take it in cases of diabetes. Due to the origin of the substance, an allergy to crustaceans is also a criterion for exclusion.

The substance can also enhance the effect of anticoagulants and should not be taken together with them. From dosages of 730 to 1000mg per day, gastrointestinal complaints often occur.

Since the possible risks are unexplored, children, adolescents, nursing mothers, and pregnant women should refrain from taking glucosamine. 

Indications for use and mode of action of glucosamine

Doctors prescribe glucosamine preparations to relieve the pain and discomfort associated with knee osteoarthritis like gonarthrosis. It’s getting assumed that the artificially supplied glucosamine is getting absorbed into the cartilage and the synovial fluid. By building up the cartilage, the mobility of the joint should improve again.

Effectiveness of glucosamine

Glucosamine is supposed to regenerate cartilage. But does the substance reach the cartilage after consumption? The active substance levels reached in the blood are deficient. In addition, the ability of cartilage to regenerate is relatively low. 

According to the consumer advice center, to achieve an effect, the type and severity of the joint disease, and very long-term duration of intake, and the dosage and composition of the products are decisive. According to studies, the positive effects are minor, but by and large present. 

Contraindication of glucosamine

Patients or persons who are allergic or hypersensitive to the active ingredient should not use glucosamine preparations for treatment. Also, for patients with allergies to crustaceans, please refrain from using this active ingredient. 

Allergy to crustaceans is quite common. Symptoms range from itching in the mouth and throat to swelling and rash. We should take particular care with swelling of the tongue – if it obstructs the airway, death by suffocation is imminent. 

Another complication with possibly severe consequences is an allergic shock. 

Since glucosamine is getting derived from chitin, which is the main component of the shells of crustaceans and other crustaceans, persons with an allergy to crustaceans should refrain from taking glucosamine.

Use is not recommended for pregnant women, children, and adolescents under 18 years of age, as there are insufficient studies on risks for these patient groups.

The following groups of people should take glucosamine preparations for osteoarthritis therapy only on the advice of a physician:

  • Individuals with diabetes mellitus, as amino sugar affects blood glucose levels.
  • Persons with a limited glucose intolerance
  • Persons with impaired kidney and liver function
  • Asthmatics
  • Persons with cardiovascular diseases

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Interactions of glucosamine with other medications

When taking preparations containing glucosamine and other medications at the same time, interactions may occur. Please regard that this also depends on the amount of the drug and the dosage form.

Glucosamine enhances the effect of some drugs. These include tetracyclines, which belong to the group of antibiotics. Glucosamine has an inhibitory effect, especially on penicillin and the antibiotic chloramphenicol.

When glucosamine and anticoagulants such as warfarin are taken simultaneously, we may prolong the blood clotting time. In patients who must take medications containing these agents, it is imperative that a physician monitor treatment with glucosamine preparations. 

We can find more detailed information on interactions in the package insert of the practices. 

Side effects of glucosamine

Glucosamine is a substance composed naturally in the body and is therefore very well tolerated. In some cases, adverse effects have been getting observed after ingestion, such as:

  • Heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain

Reactions such as headaches, fatigue, or allergies occurred even more rarely.

Especially for chondroitin-containing preparations with dosages of 730 to 1000 mg per day, gastrointestinal complaints such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and nausea as well as headache, and dizziness often occur.

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There is a risk that blood lipid levels will increase as a result of taking glucosamine. Glucosamine also affects blood sugar levels. People who suffer from diabetes mellitus or have limited glucose tolerance should keep a constant eye on their blood sugar levels when taking glucosamine.

A positive effect has not been proven.

Since 2012, glucosamine may no longer be getting advertised as helping with or preventing joint pain. Even the term joint in product names or illustration joints on product packaging is prohibited. It is to avoid the suggestion of an effect for which there is no evidence.

Whether the substance reaches the joints at all when taken orally is questionable. Studies on the subject come to contradictory results. A meta-study, therefore, evaluated different research results.

The focus was on the efficacy of the substance in osteoarthritis. Glucosamine could not be getting shown to have any harmful effect. However, a positive result could not be observed either, both in the perception of pain and the radiological findings.

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A study in Spain from 2017 even showed a more robust efficacy of placebos compared to glucosamine in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis. For this reason, the International Osteoarthritis Society also sees no benefit in glucosamine in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.

Due to this regulation, suppliers have, in some cases, switched to adding zinc or vitamin C to their glucosamine-containing preparations. It is because health claims relating to bones and cartilage are still getting permitted for these substances.  

When should glucosamine be taken?

  • The tablets are taken unchewed with a large glass of water before or during a meal. 
  • The powder is dissolved in a large glass of water and drunk with food. 
  • Glucosamine cannot be getting used to treat acute pain.

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