As a dietary supplement taken by people suffering from joint pain due to osteoarthritis, glucosamine is also used to treat arthritis symptoms in dogs, cats and horses. Naturally produced by humans and most mammals, this compound is vital to the healthy development of connective tissue and cartilage, which are necessary for cushioning joints and preventing bones from eroding each other. When cartilage deteriorates and cannot provide enough support for joint bones, symptoms indicative of arthritis–pain, stiffness, swelling–begin affecting knee, shoulder, hip and/or finger joints.
Extracted from the shells of lobster, shrimp and crabs, supplemental glucosamine is safe to use and only occasionally causes minor side effects such as diarrhea, rash, nausea or constipation. Technically, the type of glucosamine used for joint pain relief is called glucosamine hydrochloride, a compound that may also inhibit the progression of glaucoma although no clinical studies have been conducted regarding this assumption.
Additionally, some glucosamine supplements may contain other ingredients such as chondroitin sulfate, shark cartilage or methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). People who have allergies to certain types of fish should read ingredient labels of glucosamine supplements before taking them to avoid suffering allergic reactions.
According to research studies investigating people who take glucosamine supplements for osteoarthritis symptoms, glucosamine sulfate supplements seem to work better to relieve pain than glucosamine hydrochloride supplements. This is because the addition of sulfate to the glucosamine plays a more important role in producing healthy cartilage than hydrochloride. Repair and production of new cartilage will improve flexibility and reduce pain in joints damaged by osteoarthritis as well as provide pain relief that does not involve taking synthetic pain medications that carry the possibility of accidental overdose.
Supplements of glucosamine are available in tablet, powder or capsule form. It can also be injected directly into the affected joint if patients are unable to take supplements. In addition to chondroitin, glucosamine supplements may also contain manganese, a nutrient necessary for normal bone growth. Chondroitin, like glucosamine, is produced by the body and contributes to cartilage and connective tissue health. However, it is not derived from shellfish but from cow and shark cartilage, or it can be created synthetically. Its primary function is to help absorb fluid so that connective tissues remain flexible and thick enough to cushion joint bones. Moreover, chondroitin may inhibit enzyme breakdown of cartilage, a primary cause of osteoarthritis and other joint diseases.
Normal dosages of glucosamine hydrochloride or sulfate for osteoarthritis pain relief is 500 milligrams taken three times a day for one to three months. If symptoms respond favorably to glucosamine supplements, the patient can then start taking smaller dosage amounts to maintain joint health. People suffering side effects, especially heartburn or nausea, should take supplements with food instead of on an empty stomach.
Some research evidence exists indicating that glucosamine may interfere with insulin effectiveness. Diabetics taking insulin may experience a condition known as insulin resistance due to glucosamine sulfate infiltrating the hexosamine pathway and possibly producing diabetic glucose toxicity. For this reason, diabetics should take glucosamine only under a doctor’s supervision and remain vigilant of their glucose levels.