What Is It?
Health Benefits
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects

What Is It?

A natural component of the cartilage that cushions joints, chondroitin sulfate is a compound that appears to block the enzymes that can destroy crucial cartilage tissue. It is also believed to promote water retention and elasticity in joint cartilage. For these reasons chondroitin has become a popular dietary supplement for the treatment of osteoarthritis. Some studies indicate that it is as effective as aspirin and other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) at relieving arthritis pains--and at considerably less risk of causing stomach irritation and other gastric upset.

Until about a decade ago, most studies on chondroitin were small and poorly designed. There were doubts about its ability to be absorbed in oral form, and experts reserved their judgment on its effectiveness. Then, in the mid-1990s, scientists discovered that chondroitin is actually well absorbed, up to 15% intact. Promising follow-up research in people suffering from osteoarthritis prompted both the American College of Rheumatology and the European League Against Rheumatism to recommend chondroitin in their published guidelines for osteoarthritis treatment.

Chondroitin is often sold in combination with glucosamine, another compound key to cartilage formation and repair. The latest studies have focused on evaluating how effectively these products work in combination. The results of a large, three-year National Institutes of Health study on this combination are expected in the year 2005.

Health Benefits

Preliminary findings indicate that chondroitin may increase joint mobility and slow cartilage loss. However, claims that chondroitin can actually help to rebuild cartilage remain largely unproved. Researchers hypothesize that chondroitin encourages water retention and elasticity in cartilage, and inhibits enzymes that break down cartilage.

With chondroitin use, joint function appears to improve and pain to diminish in people with knee and hip osteoarthritis. So far there is no firm evidence that the same effect would necessarily occur in other joints, such as fingers, thumbs, ankles, or the spine.

Chondroitin is not a primary treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a less common but more disabling form of arthritis that results from serious immune dysfunction and inflammation rather than the cartilage "wear and tear" of osteoarthritis. With RA, chondroitin may help to restore some stability to the joint, but it will not be able to repair cartilage damage.

Specifically, chondroitin may help to:

  • Relieve osteoarthritis pain. A recent analysis of seven clinical trials (all randomized and placebo-controlled) indicates that supplementing with chondroitin can markedly (by 50% or so) reduce osteoarthritis symptoms. However, design flaws in some of the studies may mean that this estimate is on the high side, according to a 2001 report in the journal Best Practice & Research.

    In an ongoing two-year Swiss study of 300 patients with knee arthritis, side effects from chondroitin were minimal, which may be one of its primary advantages over common NSAID drugs used to treat arthritis pain.

  • Forms

    • tablet
    • powder
    • capsule

    Dosage Information

    Special Tips:
    --Chondroitin is often sold in combination formulas for arthritis, most often with the dietary supplement glucosamine sulfate. Other anti-arthritis ingredients may be included as well, such as MSM, certain vitamins, the anti-inflammatory enzyme bromelain, boswellia (a tree extract), sea cucumber, zinc, manganese, and horsetail.

  • For arthritis relief, 400-600 mg chondroitin sulfate three times a day.

    Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Chondroitin, which has therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.

  • Guidelines for Use

  • Because chondroitin is rebuilding the cartilage, the result will take much longer than a pain-relieving anti-inflammatory medication. Do not expect to notice results in less than one, or even two, months.

  • You will likely need to continue using your conventional medication for arthritis for six to eight weeks after starting this supplement. If you don't experience relief within a few months, chondroitin is probably not going to work for you and you should stop taking it.

  • Some studies indicate that once chondroitin begins to work, its effects last longer in the body than that of NSAIDs and other drugs.

  • Chondroitin can be taken without regard to meals. You can also avoid the inconvenience of a mid-day dose by taking two capsules in the morning and one in the evening.

  • When treating arthritis, consider boosting chondroitin’s effectiveness by taking it along with one of the following oral supplements: glucosamine sulfate (another compound that may affect cartilage), niacinamide (a form of the B vitamin niacin), or S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), a form of the amino acid methionine.

  • Chondroitin supplements can safely be combined with conventional pain relievers such as acetaminophen and aspirin.

  • General Interaction

  • If you take a blood thinner or a daily aspirin (of any strength), only take chondroitin under a doctor's supervision: Its molecular structure is similar to that of the blood-thinner heparin, and the interaction could potentially cause excessive bleeding.

  • Possible Side Effects

  • Chondroitin is considered safe, although there is little information on its long-term use. In rare cases, stomach upset has been reported.

  • Cautions

  • Consult your doctor before reducing or stopping any conventional arthritis medications. Be sure to continue your other arthritis therapies, including exercise and a weight-control program, if necessary.

  • Chondroitin is manufactured synthetically or extracted from cow tracheas or shark cartilage. Because the quality and concentration of chondroitin in cow and shark products can vary widely, select products that indicate they are made from synthetically manufactured chondroitin. Unfortunately, not all products give such details.

  • Don't take chondroitin if you're pregnant.

  • Date Published: 04/18/2005
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