Is Glucosamine and Chondroitin Effective for RA?

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Glucosamine sulfate (glucosamine for short) and chondroitin sulfate (chondroitin) are popular dietary supplements for arthritis. They are sold separately, in combination with each other, and in other combinations.
 
Glucosamine is a substance found in the fluid around the joints. It can also be obtained from the shells of shrimp, lobster, and crabs, or made in the laboratory. The body uses it to make and repair cartilage, a firm but flexible tissue that covers the ends of bones, keeps them from rubbing against each other, and absorbs the force of impact.
 
Chondroitin is a substance found in the cartilage around joints. As a supplement, it is obtained from sources such as sharks and cattle.
 
Effectiveness and safety information:
 
  • Both glucosamine and chondroitin have shown anti-inflammatory effects in animal studies. In humans, they have been studied only for osteoarthritis so far -- not for rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a different form of arthritis than rheumatoid arthritis. It has different causes, though the symptoms are similar (such as joint pain and problems with function). One cannot assume that if a treatment is helpful for one type of arthritis, it will also be helpful for another type. The studies of glucosamine and chondroitin for osteoarthritis mostly found a modest benefit. However, some design flaws have been noted in those studies. In sum, there is no evidence that glucosamine and chondroitin are helpful for rheumatoid arthritis.
     
  • Glucosamine appears to be safe for most people. However, it might worsen asthma through an allergic reaction. Also, glucosamine might cause higher blood sugar and insulin levels in people with diabetes, and those who decide to use it need to carefully monitor their blood sugar. Glucosamine could possibly decrease the effectiveness of certain medications -- such as acetaminophen, some, cancer drugs, and diabetes medicines. Generally, side effects of glucosamine can include mild stomach problems and nausea. Less commonly, there can be sleepiness, a skin reaction, or a headache. Some people who are allergic to shellfish are concerned about an allergic reaction to glucosamine. However, most shellfish allergies are to proteins in the meat, not to the shell material from which glucosamine supplements are made.
     
  • Chondroitin appears to be safe for most people. However, chondroitin may possibly worsen asthma (through an allergic response), blood clotting disorders, and prostate cancer. The side effects of chondroitin can include abdominal pain (or stomach pain) and nausea -- and, less commonly, diarrhea, constipation, swelling, and problems with heart rate.

 

  • Both supplements could affect the action of the drug warfarin, but this is not definite.

 

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