Glucosamine builds the "cushion" in our joints and has been found to rebuild damaged joints, restore function and reduce pain in arthritic joints. While it is often expensive, when compared to the risk of pain medications geared towards bone pain, plus the expense and loss of enjoyment of life due to impaired functioning, many people are content to spend a couple dollars a day for glucosamine supplements.
Many with arthritis or bone-related pain report increase in function and decreased pain when using a glucosamine supplement. For some, it restores the actual damaged joint cartilage, while for others it reduces the need for pain medications. Some report that it restores function. Here's how to tell if this joint pain treatment is right for you, and how to choose glucosamine supplements.
- Determine need. Glucosamine produces substances that act as a cushion when the joints move to stop bone rubbing against bone. The supplement has shown to be helpful for joint pain due to arthritis, injury to the joint or a reduction of the joints' cushioning fluid. If your pain is not due in whole or in part to one of these reasons, glucosamine will not help you. Glucosamine will only work if the source of your pain is joint-related -- either due to osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or a recent acute bone injury that impacts the joint or its surrounding fluid. It will not help tendon or muscle injuries and it will not rebuild bone, but it does rebuild cartilage. Glucosamine also has not shown value for those with joint or bone pain due to cancer. It will not remove bone spurs, but might prevent further development of new ones in the damaged joint. If you are unsure of the source of your pain, glucosamine might be worth trying, but generally the maladies glucosamine helps are conditions that should image on x-ray or MRI or could otherwise be objectively diagnosed by your doctor. If you are considering orthopedic surgery or are in pain, strongly consider a glucosamine supplement program to see if you can improve your functionality and endurance, as well as reduce pain levels. If you have the appropriate maladies, a glucosamine supplement can be added to your list of joint pain rememdies.
- Determine accompanying supplements. Glucosamine works in tandem with collagen supplements for arthritis treatment and other joint pain issues, but it does not directly impact collagen production or maintenance. If your goal is for pain management other than arthritis pain, such as with bone injury that has inflammation extending into the joint or a direct joint injury, look for a combination supplement intended for this use, such as glucosamine, chondroitin and collagen tablets. If you are looking to address arthritis pain, specifically rheumatoid, the collagen dosages are more specific, such as dosages of 5 to 10 grams per day. While glucosamine does not help an injury to a bone, if the injury comes to impact a joint (such as how a back injury can put excessive stress on a knee joint or hip joint), then glucosamine can often help prevent the loss of the fluid in the over-burdened joint and lessen the wear and tear on the cartilage surrounding the bone injury.
In some cases, glucosamine can rebuild injured joint tissue and restore the fluid in the joint. Sometimes the damage is too severe, but glucosamine can also reduce inflammation and work like an antioxidant. It is helpful to take select antioxidants to encourage this anti-inflammatory affect, as well as promote collagen formation to help build the tendons and muscles that support the injured or arthritic joint in tandem with the glucosamine.
- Vitamin C makes collagen.
- Lysine aids in collagen formation.
- Alpha lipoic acid will "recycle" the vitamin C nutrients already in your body, thus boosting the effectiveness of the vitamin C working to form and sustain collagen and support the tendons, which in turn support the bone that is being rebuilt by the glucosamine. Alpha lipoic acid is also a great all-purpose antioxidant to reduce the swelling associated with bone pain or injury; it will remove toxins and improve the functionality of the fluid in the joint that is causing the pain. This fluid surrounds the cushioning that is made by glucosamine. Removing swelling from the joint can help reduce your reliance on over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatories and help you restore function, but do not stop or reduce your current prescribed medications without talking with your doctor.
- Determine dosage. Glucosamine is used for only one purpose, so it primarily comes in dosages specific to arthritis relief and joint pain and repair. It comes in both a liquid and capsule form. If you are taking glucosamine for arthritic changes, joint pain or repair of a cartilage injury, you will want to consider the available glucosamine combinations that combine collagen and chondroitin. To work with repair of orthopedic injury, your orthopedic doctor or physical therapist may have specific dosages in mind. Some studies have used higher dosages, such as 1,500 mg per day for a brief initial course of treatment. Otherwise, dosages are determined by your weight (those over 200 pounds and/or athletes may want to take higher dosages) and whether or not you have rheumatoid arthritis.
Yale Orthopedic surgeons have been recommending glucosamine and collagen supplements to try to avoid invasive surgery whenever possible. Brands such as "Schiff Joint Free Plus with Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM&Collagen Powder Dry Mix" contain adequate dosages for this purpose. If you experience any stomach upset, consider breaking your dosage into two separate dosages, one with breakfast and one with dinner. Any other higher dosage is best determined by your doctor, as it may be excessive and an unnecessary expense.
- Select a price range. The glucosamine and collagen combinations are more expensive, but generally are considered worth the price since they are often highly effective in reducing pain and necessary medication while increasing function. You may end up spending as much as a few dollars a day. You will generally know if they help your arthritic pain within 6 weeks to three months. Some claim results within two weeks. If you are not seeing results within three months, glucosamine likely will not help you. Many who experience side effects have them within the first week.
Numerous brands are available. Your doctor or pharmacist can likely recommend a brand they think is particularly helpful, and friends with arthritic conditions often have found effective brands via trial-and-error. Select a well known brand that you can reasonably afford to purchase for daily use without skimping on cost excessively or having to discontinue usage for long periods of time due to finances. Dosage concerns will likely determine the price range for you.
If you find glucosamine too expensive, consider taking advantage of GNC "Discount Tuesdays" or Puritan Pride's bi-annual discount sales. Since the first few months are more of an evaluation period, try the best brand you can find to see if the product works for you. Afterward, you can experiment with a cheaper brand once you know how much money you care to allocate to this supplement, based on how helpful it is to you. While it is likely not covered by insurance, it is a safer alternative to long term pain medication use.
- Assess allergy, medication and lifestyle conflicts.
- Shellfish allergies are especially a risk with a glucosamine supplement since it is derived from shellfish protein.
- Some supplements capsules contain sugar, wheat, yeast, gluten, soy and salt, so if you are allergic to any of these you should review the vitamin bottle labels.
- Glucosamine is at times a conflict with some blood pressure medications and diuretics; you may need a higher glucosamine dosage.
- If you are pregnant or nursing, you should consult your doctor about glucosamine use.
- Glucosamine can affect insulin levels so diabetics need to be closely watched by a doctor if they take glucosamine.
- Patients on blood thinners should use chondroitin sulfate only if it is okay with their doctor.