What is It?
Health Benefits
Dosage Infromation
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Evidence Based Rating Scale



What Is It?

Glucosamine, a sugar produced in the body and found in small amounts in foods, plays an important role in maintaining cartilage, the gel-like material that cushions joints. When taken as a dietary supplement, glucosamine may help to relieve the pain, stiffness, and swelling of osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disorder that affects 12% of the population, in which cartilage has worn down. Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers report improvements with glucosamine supplements as well, as do individuals with other types of joint injuries. Some 70 countries around the world sanction glucosamine as a treatment for individuals with mild to moderately severe osteoarthritis.

While there is no readily available source of glucosamine in foods--the shells of crabs, shrimp and oysters contain it but aren't typically consumed--several supplement forms have become widely available. These include glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride and N-acetyl-glucosamine (NAG). Glucosamine sulfate is the form best absorbed by the body and the one most commonly used to treat osteoarthritis. Interestingly, for years veterinarians have treated arthritis in certain animals with glucosamine hydrochloride.

Health Benefits

The body draws on glucosamine, which contains the sugar glucose, to produce two molecules necessary for proper cartilage function. Whether glucosamine taken orally has the same cartilage-benefiting actions as the glucosamine naturally present in joints and connective tissue actually remains a subject of debate. Much of the glucosamine sulfate taken in pill form is apparently absorbed through the intestines and is available for the body to use, although precisely how much remains a subject of contention. Ultimately, many arthritis sufferers do report improvements, with about half of study participants experiencing significant relief from pain and inflammation. Research indicates possible benefits for other conditions as well.

Specifically, glucosamine may help to:

·  Relieve osteoarthritis-related pain, stiffness and swelling. The millions of Americans who suffer from osteoarthritis have cartilage that has dried out and gradually broken down over time, cracking and flaking off. When joints are deprived of this cushioning, painful stiffness and inflammation can develop. Glucosamine helps to prevent these symptoms by protecting and reinforcing cartilage. Studies indicate that some arthritis sufferers experience improved range of motion after taking glucosamine. Others report increased overall mobility. And several studies suggest that glucosamine may be as effective in easing arthritic pain and inflammation--and not nearly as irritating to the stomach--as the NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) typically recommended for osteoarthritis (1). These studies are forcing doctors to reassess the use of acetaminophen as the first-line drug therapy for all patients with knee OA. Furthermore, the documented efficacy of glucosamine for pain relief and function improvement in patients with knee OA, with an effect size that is comparable with that of NSAIDs, requires us to reassess the use of glucosamine as a potential first-line agent at least for patients with knee OA who have mild-to-moderate pain (2).

A recent Chinese study of individuals with osteoarthritis of the knee found that while participants taking l,500 mg of glucosamine sulfate daily experienced a similar reduction in symptoms as those given l,200 mg daily of ibuprofen, the glucosamine group tolerated their medication much better.

·  Slow and possibly halt osteoarthritis-related damage to joints. Glucosamine appears to protect and strengthen the cartilage around joints, particularly in the knees, hips, spine, and hands. In so doing, it may help to prevent further joint damage. And while it can do little to actually restore cartilage that has completely worn away--or reverse joint damage that has already occurred--glucosamine appears to slow the development of mild to moderately severe osteoarthritis. A study that followed 414 postmenopausal women for three years and found that supplementation with glucosamine sulfate prevented the structural changes typical of knee osteoarthritis when compared with placebo (3). Recently, another study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that the pain, and loss of functional mobility associated with osteoarthritis lessened 20-25% with a daily dose of 1500 mg of glucosamine sulfate (4).

In another trial conducted on 212 subjects with knee osteoarthritis, Belgian investigators reported that glucosamine actually slowed the progression of the disease. Over the course of three years, scientists measured spaces between joints and tracked patients' symptoms. Those on glucosamine showed no further joint narrowing in the knees. Put another way, the glucosamine appeared to protect the shock-absorbing cartilage that cushions the bones. In contrast, the condition

of the patients taking the placebo steadily worsened (5). In an Academic and clinician roundtable review of treatments for osteoarthritis of the hip, glucosamine sulphate was included as one of the 10 key treatment propositions listed under the category of disease- modifying drugs (6).

·  Speed healing of strains and sprains. Because it helps to reinforce the cartilage around joints, glucosamine may hasten the healing of acute joint injuries, such as sprained ankles or fingers. The same is true of muscle injuries such as strains. In strengthening joints, glucosamine may also help to prevent future injury.


·  Control back pain. By helping to reinforce cartilage, glucosamine is believed to strengthen the tissue supporting the spinal disks that line the back. Back pain resulting from either muscle strain or arthritis may therefore improve with glucosamine. The supplement may also speed healing of strained back muscles in this way. Pain in the upper spine and neck may similarly respond to glucosamine.


·  Promote healthy aging. As the body ages, the cartilage supporting and cushioning all the joints tends to wear down. Glucosamine may help to postpone this process by giving cartilage a boost, protecting and strengthening it overall. The complications of osteoarthritis, a largely age-related disorder, are therefore also less likely to occur.

Note: Glucosamine has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Glucosamine.


  • tablet
  • capsule
  • cream
  • injection

Dosage Information

Special tip: The dosage for glucosamine is calculated on body weight: about 900 mg per 100 pounds of body weight. If you weigh more than 200 pounds or take diuretics, consult your doctor about an appropriate dosage, as you may have to take a higher daily dose of the drug than is commonly recommended.

--Glucosamine is often sold in combination formulas for arthritis with the dietary supplement chondroitin sulfate.

·  For all types of arthritis and joint-related conditions: Take 500 mg of glucosamine sulfate three times a day.

·  For sprains, strains, and back pain: Take 500 mg of glucosamine sulfate three times a day.

·  To protect against aging-related ailments: Take 500 mg of glucosamine sulfate twice a day.

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

Guidelines for Use

·  Take glucosamine with food to minimize the risk of digestive upset.

·  Allow two to eight weeks for results.

·  When treating arthritis, consider boosting glucosamine's effectiveness by taking it along with one of the following oral supplements: chondroitin 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. Glucosamine is also commonly combined with other anti-arthritis supplements such as boswellia (a tree extract), sea cucumber, and cayenne (or capsaicin) ointment.
·  Glucosamine supplements can safely be combined with conventional pain relievers such as acetaminophen and aspirin.

General Interaction

·  Glucosamine may interact with certain diuretics, necessitating higher doses of the diuretic. Ask your doctor for guidance.

·  There are no other known drug or nutrient interactions associated with glucosamine.

Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealthMD Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.

Possible Side Effects

·  No significant side effects have been reported, although long-term studies on glucosamine's safety remain to be done.

·  In rare cases, heartburn, nausea or other minor gastrointestinal problems can develop.


·  If you're pregnant or breast-feeding, check with your doctor before taking glucosamine.

·  Some forms of glucosamine may be made from crab, shrimp or oyster shells, if you have a shellfish allergy or iodine sensitivity, you should consult your physician regarding your choice of glucosamine product.
·  There have been isolated incidents where glucosamine products have caused exacerbations in asthma. If you suffer from asthma you should discuss your supplement plan with your doctor prior to beginning any new preparation.




  1. Towheed TE, Anastassiades TP, Shea B, Houpt J, Welch V, Hochberg MC. Glucosamine therapy for treating osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2001(1):CD002946.
  2. Hochberg MC. What a difference a year makes: reflections on the ACR recommendations for the medical management of osteoarthritis. Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2001; Dec;3(6):473-8.
  3. Bruyere O, Pavelka K, Rovati LC, Deroisy R, Olejarova M, Gatterova J, Giacovelli G, Reginster JY. Glucosamine sulfate reduces osteoarthritis progression in postmenopausal women with knee osteoarthritis: evidence from two 3-year studies. Menopause. 2004 Mar-Apr;11(2):138-43.
  4. Pavelka K, Gatterova J, Olejarova M, Machacek S, Giacovelli G, Rovati LC. Glucosamine sulfate use and delay of progression of knee osteoarthritis: a 3-year, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study. Arch Intern Med. 2002 Oct 14;162(18):2113-23.
  5. Reginster JY, Deroisy R, Rovati LC, Lee RL, Lejeune E, Bruyere O, Giacovelli G, Henrotin Y, Dacre JE, Gossett C. Long-term effects of glucosamine sulphate on osteoarthritis progression: a randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Lancet. 2001 Jan 27;357(9252):251-6.
  6. Zhang W, Doherty M, Arden N, Bannwarth B, Bijlsma J, Gunther KP, Hauselmann HJ, Herrero-Beaumont G, Jordan K, Kaklamanis P, Leeb B, Lequesne M, Lohmander S, Mazieres B, Martin-Mola E, Pavelka K, Pendleton A, Punzi L, Swoboda B, Varatojo R, Verbruggen G, Zimmermann-Gorska I, Dougados M. EULAR evidence based recommendations for the management of hip osteoarthritis - report of a task force of the EULAR standing committee for international clinical studies including therapeutics (ESCISIT). Ann Rheum Dis. 2004 Oct 7 [Epub ahead of print].

Evidence Based Rating Scale 


The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements and therapies demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.




Date Published: 09/28/2005

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