Glucosamine is a natural supplement used to help support bone and cartilage health, and more specifically in cases of minor joint pain caused by osteoarthritis and other joint concerns. Early laboratory tests found that glucosamine helps reduce minor joint pain by addressing the inflammation that surrounds the joints, allowing the cartilage to naturally regenerate on its own. While intended to alleviate joint pain, the findings in a new study suggest glucosamine lowers cardiovascular risk as well.
What is Glucosamine and How Does it Help Joint Pain?
Glucosamine is a substance that’s found in the cartilage surrounding the joints in the hands and knees. It can be derived from natural sources, as it is found in the shells of shellfish, or it can be created synthetically in a laboratory. While there are two types of glucosamine, hydrochloride and sulfate, glucosamine sulfate is most commonly used in dietary supplements. Even though glucosamine can be found in shellfish, eating this type of seafood won’t give you the boost of glucosamine you may expect, as it is only present in their shells. In fact, the compound hasn’t been found in any edible foods, which means natural supplements are the best way to obtain the compound.
In studies on the effectiveness of glucosamine in treating joint pain, subjects were given an average of 500 milligrams up to three times daily. Results from these studies indicated that the supplement may cause indigestion when taken on an empty stomach. For this reason, it’s best to take glucosamine sulfate with your meals. In addition to an upset stomach, glucosamine may also cause heartburn, headaches, and drowsiness, however since glucosamine sulfate is a natural compound, it’s rare for the supplement to cause these side effects. Side effects most often occur when the individual takes more than the recommended dosage, or takes the normal dosage more frequently than necessary. Glucosamine should be avoided if you have a shellfish allergy.
While glucosamine sulfate has been found effective in helping to alleviate minor joint pain caused by osteoarthritis, it has failed to relieve pain caused by other conditions. Some patients found it ineffective in treating the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), asthma, allergies and various sports injuries. Scientific research has not yet explored the potential for treating these other conditions, so it cannot be recommended for other types of treatments.
New Study Finds Glucosamine Lowers Cardiovascular Risk
According to a Tulane University study, adults who take a glucosamine supplement may be helping their cardiovascular health along the way. The researchers found that taking glucosamine helps lower the risks of developing various types of heart disease and may even help reduce the risks of a stroke.
The study, led by Professor Lu Qi, examined the health records of 466,039 subjects, which included information about vitamin and supplement intake, by accessing the records of the U.K. Biobank Study. The researchers noted that at the outset, no one in the study had cardiovascular disease. One-fifth of the participants reported taking a glucosamine supplement at the start of the study.
The Tulane researchers examined the health records for their subjects at the beginning of the study and at a seven-year follow-up. The follow-up portion of the study also examined the death records for any subjects who had passed away within that time frame. In examining the records, they looked at any incidences of cardiovascular issues, which may have resulted in coronary heart disease or stroke. They also looked for any indications that death resulted from cardiovascular disease.
In comparing the records, the researchers concluded that people who took glucosamine had a 15 percent lower risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease. Additionally, they found that their risk of developing a stroke, coronary heart disease or of dying from a cardiovascular-related event was reduced by up to 22 percent. The research team accounted for other factors that might have affected the results of their analysis. They said age, gender, body weight, diet, lifestyle and the use of other medications did not play a factor in determining the results. Although the study was only observational, the research team concluded that glucosamine appeared to lower cardiovascular risk. They added that future research is needed to verify their findings.
Professor Lu Qi did note that cigarette smoking seemed to play a role in the results. Smokers who were currently taking glucosamine supplements exhibited a 37 percent lower risk of developing heart disease. That risk was only reduced by 18 percent in former smokers and 12 percent in people who had never smoked. The purpose for this curiosity may lie in the effect that glucosamine has on inflammation. While cigarette smoking increases inflammation, the glucosamine supplement counteracts that effect. The supplement does this by inhibiting the production of C-reactive protein, which is linked to the higher inflammation present in smokers.
Glucosamine for Joint Pain and More
While regular use of glucosamine can help alleviate minor pain caused by osteoporosis and may reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease, Professor Lu Qi’s team advises caution. More direct research is needed to confirm these findings before the cardiovascular benefits of the supplement can be recommended. In the meantime, glucosamine can still be used to support joint and cartilage health, and to help soothe minor joint pain. Taking a high-quality supplement that contains glucosamine to help maintain healthy joints and cartilage can help improve the quality of life for people suffering from osteoarthritis or minor joint pain. For those individuals, improved cardiovascular health may be an unexpected and welcome benefit.