Cartilage is tough, flexible tissue that provides a cushion between bones in the joint and supports movement by allowing the bones to glide over one another. Cartilage also defines and supports other body parts like the ears, nose and windpipe. Glucosamine and chondroitin are important components of cartilage, and some health experts believe that pairing the two in a dietary supplement may enhance joint health and prevent certain forms of arthritis.

Glucosamine is produced naturally in the body and stimulates the production of glycosaminoglycans, molecules used in the building and repair of cartilage. As glucosamine is not found in food sources, it must be taken in the form of a supplement. Most of these are made from chitin - the hard outer shells of lobster, shrimp, and crab.

Supplemental glucosamine can be taken as n-acetyl glucosamine, glucosamine sulfate, or glucosamine hydrochloride, the most easily absorbed. It comes in the form of tablets, capsules, and powders, or it can be injected directly into the joint by a doctor. Synthetic forms of glucosamine are also available for people allergic to shellfish.

Chondroitin was first extracted in the 1960s from shark and beef cartilage. It is also found in bovine trachea and can be made synthetically in the lab. Chrondroitin accelerates the production of hyaluronic acid, which lubricates joints. It also keeps cartilage healthy by absorbing fluid into the connective tissue which enhances resiliency.

There has been a long-standing debate over the use of glucosamine and chondroitin in the treatment of osteoarthritis (OA). This is a condition causing degeneration of the surface of smooth cartilage within the joints. OA is the most common type of arthritis, with symptoms of joint pain, swelling, and deformity.

Results from several well-designed, scientific studies suggest that glucosamine supplements (alone) may be an effective treatment for osteoarthritis, particularly that of the knee or hip because it:

• Reduces pain attributed to the disease
• Enhances function for those with knee or hip problems
• Reduces joint stiffness and swelling

In 2006, the National Institutes of Health sponsored a study on the effects of glucosamine and chondroitin on osteoarthritis (GAIT). This study showed that while the combination of the two supplements did not appear to reduce pain from mild osteoarthritis, it did appear to lessen pain among those with moderate-to-severe OA of the knee. Glucosamine and chondroitin are often used alongside non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat osteoarthritis.

The pairing of glucosamine and chondroitin is also popularly used by athletes and the general public as a treatment for joint health. As joints experience a significant amount of wear and tear, the building blocks of cartilage must be present and available. Many users feel the glucosamine-chondroitin supplement ensures the building material for cartilage repair, and report that use of the supplement leaves them feeling less achy and more nimble!

Note: As glucosamine has not been studied for safety in children, it is recommended for adults only. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take glucosamine, since it has not been studied for safety in these groups. Due to potential interactions with medications, all dietary supplements should be taken under the supervision of a health care provider.

Sources:
http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/glucosamine-000306.htm
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chondroitin-sulfate/NS_patient-chondroitin
http://nccam.nih.gov/research/results/gait/

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