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Does Glucosamine Work

Glucosamine is used by millions of people to prevent joint degeneration. Does glucosamine work?
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Human joints struggle to regenerate. Over time, they may experience age-related breakdown, often in the form of osteoarthritis.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, Osteoarthritis affects 27 million Americans, with some estimates placing that number closer to 40 million.

It's estimated that osteoarthritis costs the economy 126 billion dollars annually according to the 2003 Medical Expenditures Survey, and costs each individual living with arthritis an estimated $5,700.

Controlling Arthritis and Joint Damage

It is clear that controlling joint breakdown is an important part of healthy living. But there are very few medically available ways to control or prevent osteoarthritis.

No effective or safe medicines have been created to rebuild joints, and surgery is prohibitively expensive and can be dangerous.

That's why millions of people depend on glucosamine – an amino sugar that research has shown is effective at both relieving osteoarthritis symptoms and preventing further joint breakdown. But does glucosamine work? And, if so, is it a worthwhile supplement to take for those suffering from osteoarthritis?

Research into Glucosamine

Several studies have sought to find whether or not glucosamine is effective at relieving osteoarthritis symptoms, and many have found that indeed, glucosamine works better than a placebo.

For example, research at the University of Belgium in 2001 tested the effects of Glucosamine Sulfate on osteoarthritis patients in a double blind study, and compared those results to that of placebo.

They tested their subjects in two ways. The first was with a subjective survey, in which respondents were asked to provide a rating of their current pain and discomfort, immobility, etc. To ensure that the Glucosamine measurements were measuring not only whether or not the individual experienced less pain, but also experienced less joint degeneration, the researchers also used X-Ray tools to measure the size of the joints and whether they experienced any further breakdown over time.

Glucosamine proved to be effective at reducing joint discomfort and immobility compared to placebo. In fact, most glucosamine users reported little to no change (and some improvement) in their overall osteoarthritis symptoms.

They also found that glucosamine did, in fact, prevent the degeneration of joints via the joint scan measurements.

Several other studies have confirmed these results. Research supports the idea that glucosamine is effective for relieving the long term symptoms associated with osteoarthritis, and preventing further degeneration.

How Does Glucosamine Work?

Glucosamine is an amino-sugar. Immediately upon entering the body, it gets broken down into glycosylated proteins and lipids. Known as "Glycosaminoglycans," these nutrients are a core component of joints and connective tissue.

Researchers have found that by consuming glucosamine, the body creates more of the nutrients that help regenerate and form joints. This, in theory, is what prevents the joints from degenerating further.

Does Glucosamine Work for All Joints?

Most studies have focused on the major problem areas of those with osteoarthritis – the knees and the hands.

But the body is not very good at differentiating between connective tissue. The body is unlikely to "target" a specific joint. Rather, it sends all of the joints the glucosamine equally, and the joints that require the most support will receive the nutrients they need. So presumably glucosamine should be effective for all joints in the body, but further research is needed to confirm the accuracy of that belief.

Does Glucosamine Work for Everyone?

Numerous studies have shown that glucosamine is far more effective than placebo at improving long term outlook for those living with osteoarthritis.

However, osteoarthritis is a long term degenerative disease, and the conditions and variables involved make it impossible to confirm with certainty that glucosamine works for everyone. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, roughly 79% of all users of glucosamine will report an improvement in symptoms.

It should be noted that osteoarthritis is a complex disorder. Those that do not report an improvement in symptoms may have experienced far greater degeneration had they not taken the glucosamine supplements.

Furthermore, osteoarthritis is a long term disease. Those that take glucosamine should not expect immediate improvement, but rather a marked decrease in osteoarthritis progression. Most studies have patients taking glucosamine for as many as three years or longer, and those with osteoarthritis may require the supplement for an even greater amount of time – if not indefinitely.

Overall Thoughts on Glucosamine

Numerous studies have confirmed that glucosamine is currently the most effective treatment for relieving and preventing the symptom and progression of osteoarthritis. While more research is needed to discover why glucosamine is effective for some more than others, and whether it is beneficial for any joint location, early results are very positive in support of glucosamine treatments. 

Next Article: Glucosamine Study
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