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Glucosamine Supplements

Glucosamine is one of the raw materials used to form new cartilage in the body. It is needed to form the glycosaminoglycans and synovial fluid that help keep the joints cushioned and well lubricated. Glucosamine has been proven in several clinical studies to help ease symptoms of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and bursitis, as well as other disorders associated with a breakdown of the cartilage regenerative process.

Glucosamine sulfate is an amino sugar molecule that is naturally made in the body from a sugar (glucose) and an amino acid (glutamine). Unlike other sugars, amino sugars are not converted into energy; instead, they are used to form the glycosaminoglycans and hyaluronic acid that line the joints. Glucosamine is the precursor of chondroitin sulfate, a glycosaminoglycan (GAG) that forms the tough, fibrous tissues of cartilage. Both glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate have been proven in repeated clinical studies to help improve symptoms of osteoarthritis, a condition characterized by decreased amounts of cartilage at the joints. Many supplements marketed as a treatment for joint pain or chronic back pain contain both glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate as the main active ingredients. Because glucosamine sulfate is a smaller molecule than chondroitin sulfate it is more easily absorbed, and thus may be more effective for treatment of pain due to osteoarthritis; however, many studies indicate that taking chondroitin actually increases the effectiveness of glucosamine.

Glucosamine supplementation can help reduce and in some cases eliminate dependency on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Overuse of NSAIDs have been known to cause stomach upset, and is also linked to liver and kidney failure, but research indicates that glucosamine is a safe, effective nonprescription alternative to these medications. Studies have shown that glucosamine works as well as NSAIDs ibuprofen and piroxicam (Feldene), although it can take three to six weeks to begin to see any benefit.

Glycosaminoglycans, the complex proteins made from glucosamine, are also found in the linings of the digestive tract, mucus membranes, and arteries. Because increased levels of glucosamine boost the production of glycosaminoglycans, glucosamine supplementation may help treat conditions linked to the deterioration of these linings, such as chronic venous insufficiency, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and congestive heart failure. Research indicates that glucosamine sulfate may also help prevent kidney stones by reducing levels of oxalate in the urine.

Although the body produces its own glucosamine, any injury involving the joints or vertebrae, osteoarthritis, chronic back pain, and even the normal aging process make supplementation with this substance beneficial to a large segment of the population. Glucosamine is not found in foods, but supplements are made using chitin, a substance made from the processed shells of crab, lobster, and shrimp. There are three forms of glucosamine available commercially: glucosamine hydrochloride, glucosamine sulfate and N-acetyl glucosamine. Glucosamine sulfate is generally considered the most effective for producing cartilage, especially when combined with vitamin C, manganese, and chondroitin. Combination supplements containing these three nutrients are available. Glucosamine is available in capsule, powder, liquid, and tablet forms. The usual dose for treatment of osteoarthritis is l,500 milligrams daily.

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