Patients who take glucosamine for their osteoarthritis have a bonus effect: The preparation also lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a large population study published in the science journal British Medical Journal. Always choose pharmaceutical-grade glucosamine so you are sure to obtain the desired effect.
Glucosamine is a natural structural component of articular cartilage and has been used for decades to treat osteoarthritis. Normally, glucosamine is extracted from shellfish.
In a new study, scientists looked closer at the link between daily glucosamine intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The study was headed by researchers from Tulane University in New Orleans, Harvard University in Boston, and Harbin Medical University in China.
The researchers used data from the British Biobank, which has gathered a large number of studies and questionnaires concerning the nutritional status and health of the population. The British Biobank collects data in a similar fashion to NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) in the United States. Unlike NHANES, however, Biobank follows up on future health findings.
Large population study based on extensive data
The British Biobank started recruiting participants back in 2006. Before 2010, it had reached its goal of around half a million participants in the age group 40-69 years. The plan is to follow these people for 30 years.
The participants were asked whether they took different supplements. Besides glucosamine, the questions focused on regular vitamins, minerals, and fish oil. The scientists adjusted for other factors that can affect health such as diet, age, gender, income, smoking habits, etc. After that, the scientists concentrated the glucosamine users more intensively in order to rule out other confounding factors.
They had noted that the participants that took glucosamine also tended to use other supplements, so what the scientists did was to focus exclusively on the participants that only took glucosamine. They excluded the participants that had developed cardiovascular disease within the last two years and those who were genetically predisposed.
The researchers then found that around 19 percent of the isolated group took glucosamine supplements, and these participants tended to be more active than the others. This is most likely because glucosamine increases joint mobility and makes physical activity much easier. In any case, the scientists were able to conclude that glucosamine’s cardio-protective effect had no relation to the fact that these individuals were more active than the rest of the study participants.
Protects against cardiovascular disease
What the new study showed, more precisely, was that glucosamine supplements can protect against different cardiovascular diseases and lower the risk of non-fatal stroke. The results for the other stroke categories were not significant. It looked as if glucosamine had a greater cardio-protective effect on smokers than on non-smokers.
The researchers concluded that regular use of glucosamine for pain relief in osteoarthritis may also lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. This may be linked to the anti-inflammatory properties of glucosamine, as inflammation sets the stage for atherosclerosis. They call for additional studies, however, to test the hypothesis about the cardiovascular effect of glucosamine.
Glucosamine as first-line treatment for osteoarthritis
Glucosamine consists of an amino acid and glucose. Because glucosamine is a constituent of different compounds it is essential to distinguish between different forms of glucosamine when using it for treating osteoarthritis.
According to a report issued by the financially independent European expert group ESCO (European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspect of Osteoarthritis), glucosamine sulfate should ideally be the primary choice over pain-relieving medication, because the latter does not rebuild articular cartilage and is even associated with serious side effects and death. The scientists behind the afore-mentioned study even found that glucosamine sulfate inhibits interleukin-1, which causes inflammation and joint damage. Always chose pharmaceutical-grade glucosamine sulfate, which can be trusted, unlike the dozes of glucosamine supplements available from web shops and other places, where analyses have often revealed the presence of undeclared substances with a potentially harmful effect.
MA H et al. Association of habitual glucosamine use with risk of cardiovascular disease: prospective study in UK Biobank. BMJ 2019
Nelson AE et al.: A systematic review of recommendations and guidelines for the management of osteoarthritis: The Chronic Osteoarthritis Management Initiative of the U.S Bone and Joint initiative. PubMed 2014
Keld Østergaard. Glukosaminsulfat – den nye slidgigtmedicin. Medi-Com, 2003
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