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Glucosamine is a compound that naturally occurs in the body and other places in nature. In humans, it plays a role in forming cartilage. Glucosamine is often used as a dietary supplement to treat osteoarthritis, but there are questions about its effectiveness. Furthermore, some research suggests that glucosamine may be useful in treating other conditions, as well.

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Glucosamine is Generally Safe

The most common form of glucosamine used in supplements is glucosamine sulfate, which is generally safe, though there are possible side effects. Glucosamine supplements are recommended for people with arthritis who require an over-the-counter pain reliever. But doctors often caution patients to be careful when choosing glucosamine products, as dietary supplements are not regulated, and the labels are often inaccurate.

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May Contain Shellfish

Glucosamine occurs naturally in shellfish. This form is often used in supplements, and it may cause an allergic reaction in people with an allergy to these meats. Other side effects of glucosamine may include nausea, diarrhea, heartburn, constipation, headache, skin reactions, and drowsiness. It may also worsen asthma and could affect blood sugar levels.

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Drug Interactions

People who take glucosamine have to be careful as it can interfere with certain medications. Taking glucosamine with acetaminophen can reduce the effectiveness of both. Glucosamine can also increase the effects of warfarin, an anticoagulant; in some cases, this could lead to an increased risk of bleeding.

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Osteoarthritis

Most research shows that glucosamine sulfate can provide relief for osteoarthritis, especially in the knees, but it can take between four and eight weeks to be effective. In addition to providing pain relief, glucosamine may also prevent joint breakdown and the progression of osteoarthritis. Some research also shows glucosamine sulfate may decrease the chances of needing a total knee replacement.

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Effects

The natural glucosamine sulfate in the body is in cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and the fluid surrounding the joints. When a persond develops osteoarthritis, the cartilage around the joints breaks down and thins, leading to pain, stiffness, and friction. Researchers believe that glucosamine sulfate supplements work by either increasing the amount or preventing the breakdown of cartilage and fluid surrounding the joints.

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Other Forms of Glucosamine

Most of the research on glucosamine has been done on glucosamine sulfate. There are other forms, too, including glucosamine hydrochloride and N-acetyl glucosamine. Some researchers believe that these other forms are less effective than glucosamine sulfate as the body needs the sulfate to repair or heal cartilage.

glucosamine hydrochloride N-acetyl Farion_O / Getty Images
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Gut Microbes

Research shows that, when taken with supplementary chondroitin, another component of cartilage, glucosamine may significantly change gut microbes, not only in structure but also in abundance. More research is warranted, but these microbial changes may reduce gut inflammation, which supports previous studies that glucosamine and chondroitin reduce inflammation in other parts of the body.

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Mortality

One large-scale study demonstrated that 19.1 percent of the UK population reported using glucosamine regularly. This study also observed lower mortality associated with regular use of glucosamine for all causes of death, including cardiovascular , respiratory, and digestive diseases, and cancer. Further studies are needed to determine the full effects and benefits of glucosamine.

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Smoking and Glucosamine

The same large study that showed lower mortality with regular use of glucosamine supplements also had interesting results related to smokers. Glucosamine seemed to have a stronger effect on current smokers. Researchers believe this is because smokers have a higher level of inflammation at baseline. Further research is needed to clarify how glucosamine could reduce mortality related to smoking.

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Dietary Supplements

Choose glucosamine supplements carefully. Some contain additional ingredients that can change the effectiveness of the supplement, including shark cartilage or other forms of glucosamine. Labels are not always accurate; for example, they may list glucosamine sulfate and contain only glucosamine hydrochloride. The amount of glucosamine in the supplement can also vary significantly.

read label carefully asiseeit / Getty Images

Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.