Arthritis Home > Glucosamine

Glucosamine is a dietary supplement commonly used for treating arthritis. It appears to work by decreasing inflammation, reducing the production of certain compounds that degrade cartilage, and stimulating chondrocytes (the cells that make and maintain cartilage). While most studies show that glucosamine does not cause any more side effects than a placebo, potential side effects include nausea, constipation, and heartburn.

What Is Glucosamine?

Glucosamine is a dietary supplement most often used to treat arthritis (although it is claimed to be beneficial for a few other uses as well). It is derived from the shells of shrimp, crabs, and lobsters. It is often used in combination with chondroitin, another dietary supplement.
 
(Click Glucosamine Benefits for more information on what the supplement is used for.)
 

How Does It Work?

Glucosamine is an amino sugar naturally found in the human body. It is important for the production of certain proteins, lipids (fatty molecules), and other substances in the human body. Most researchers think that the supplement works for arthritis in several ways, such as:
 
  • Decreasing inflammation
  • Stimulating chondrocytes, the cells that make and maintain cartilage
  • Decreasing the production of certain compounds that degrade cartilage.
     
This supplement usually comes in one of three forms -- glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride, or N-acetyl glucosamine. Interestingly, some researchers believe that it is actually the sulfate portion of the compound (in glucosamine sulfate) that is responsible for the anti-arthritis properties. This might help explain the mixed results seen in clinical studies for arthritis, since the other non-sulfate forms might not work at all. However, it is not yet clear if there are any true differences between the types.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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