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The truth about glucosamine and joint pain

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By Audrey Couture

M.Sc. Pharmacology


March, is finally here, and so is the promise of nice weather to come. If you’ve been cocooning all winter long, it’s time to make a move and get out under the sun!

Of course if you experience knee pain as soon as you try exercising again, perhaps the spring time does not warm your heart as much as it should… Joint pain is not a fatality of aging everyone has to accept. A natural, clinically proven solution against joint and osteoarthritis pain is glucosamine. Don’t give up. Fight back!

How to maximize the pain-relieving effect of a glucosamine product?


1. Look for the right type of glucosamine

Make sure you buy the effective type of glucosamine by checking the list of ingredients on the label. Clinical studies have shown significant joint pain reduction when using “glucosamine sulfate”. Other types of glucosamine (hydrochloride and N-acetyl glucosamine), haven’t yielded such positive results. So if you want to maximize your chance of relieving your joint pain with glucosamine, look for a product with glucosamine sulfate.

2. Take the effective daily dose

Because clinical studies have been performed using a 1500 mg daily dose of glucosamine sulfate, you must take this same dosage to get the same relief. Products often provide 500 mg of glucosamine sulfate per tablet or capsule, so make sure to take 3 per day to reach the effective, pain-reducing dosage. If you take less, you may still feel some degree of pain relief: it’s just not certain.

3. Stay the course for 4 weeks and then, keep going!

Glucosamine takes time to start working. Take 1500 mg of glucosamine sulfate every day for at least 4 weeks (1 month) to max out the effect of your supplement. Glucosamine is not a conventional anti-pain medicine that conceals pain in 15 minutes. It addresses the cause of the pain (cartilage wear and tear) and helps your body repair its cartilage. On average, 4 weeks are needed for glucosamine to repair enough cartilage for pain to be reduced. Be patient! Obviously, if you have been suffering from osteoarthritis for many years and your joint cartilage has suffered a lot of damage, you may need more than 4 weeks to feel the effect. Generally speaking, 6 weeks should be enough for you to start seeing results. After that, keep taking glucosamine! As soon as you stop, cartilage degradation will resume and pain will reappear after a few weeks.

Why take glucosamine for pain if anti-pain drugs act faster?

It’s true, 4 weeks is a long wait if you are experiencing daily pain. But glucosamine has a great advantage over conventional anti-pain medicine: while pain relief drugs simply conceal the pain (you no longer feel the pain, but it’s still there), glucosamine addresses the cause of the pain by repairing joint cartilage. With healthier cartilages, glucosamine allows to slow the progression of cartilage wear and tear (of osteoarthritis), which helps you avoid future worsening of pain. Moreover, feel free to take conventional pain-relief drugs as you’re starting off on glucosamine sulfate to help you cope with the pain during those 4 weeks.

Is glucosamine right for me?

Technically speaking, in clinical studies, glucosamine sulfate has relieved joint pain in patients suffering from mild to moderate osteoarthritis of the knee. In other words, mild to moderate knee pain. Severe knee pain is not always relieved by glucosamine sulfate alone, because the cartilage may be too degraded to be significantly repaired. Similarly, according to other clinical studies, it seems glucosamine sulfate is not effective at reducing pain caused by hip osteoarthritis.

A combination of cartilage-repairing ingredients like glucosamine sulfate with chondroitin, collagen, MSM and others may be necessary for more severe joint pain.

What side effects and interactions should I expect with glucosamine?

So far, clinical studies have not revealed major problems with glucosamine. Glucosamine may be associated with gastrointestinal discomfort in sensitive individuals. If you are prone to gastric discomfort or digestive upset, take glucosamine with meals to avoid such side effects.

Rumour has it that glucosamine may increase the glycemia of diabetic people. This is not true. The problem is that some glucometers still cannot tell the difference between glucosamine and blood glucose, and this results in falsely high readings. Many studies have looked at glucosamine in diabetes, and none could demonstrate an effect on blood glucose levels. If you are diabetic, you may use glucosamine worry free, but first make sure your glucometer isn’t yielding falsely high blood glucose results. If so, take glucosamine after having checked your blood glucose.

People allergic to seafood have long feared glucosamine: it is true that this supplement is derived from shrimp or crab shell. But the purification process for glucosamine is so extensive that it eliminates the allergens responsible for allergic reactions. Studies in patients with a diagnosis of seafood allergies have confirmed the safety of glucosamine supplements. Even Health Canada does not caution glucosamine derived from shrimp or crab to people allergic to seafood.

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