Glucosamine For Joints

Glucosamine is one of the best supplements to reduce any joint pain, inflammation and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis or sport injuries. Although it was initially thought to provide building blocks for building cartilage, researchers now know that the main action of glucosamine is to damp down inflammation and act as a biological signal to switch on tissue regeneration. Glucosamine is important for healthy joints as it promotes the formation of synovial fluid (your joints’ oil) and makes it more cushioning, boosts the elasticity of joint cartilage, and helps to strengthen ligaments and intervertebral discs.

Glucosamine production reduces with age

Although your cells can make small quantities of glucosamine, this is a slow process and it is often in short supply. The ability to synthesise glucosamine declines with age, as does the production of a glucosamine derivative (known as aggrecan) so that the amount produced in cartilage cells typically reduces by half between the ages of 45 and 20; by the age of 69, you make just 25% of the amounts made in your youth.

No wonder your joints become creakier as their synovial fluid (the joint’s oil) becomes thinner and less cushioning and cartilage becomes more brittle and starts flaking away! Glucosamine is one of the best supplements for older people with aching joints, and for younger people with sports-related injuries. A study published in the International Journal of Rheumatology concluded that long-term treatment with glucosamine can:

  • Reduce pain
  • Improve joint mobility
  • Reduce the progression of osteoarthritis
  • Reduce the risk of needing a total joint replacement.

As a bonus, the anti-inflammatory action of glucosamine may explain findings that people who take glucosamine supplements tend to live longer than those who don’t.

Glucosamine research

Several negative trials involving glucosamine have gained lots of publicity, but in some of these trials people only took glucosamine for one week, and one large analysis of data only selected ten out of 58 eligible studies. The results, published in the British Medical Journal were used to discourage doctors from prescribing glucosamine on the NHS, which is fair enough – the cost if everyone demanded a prescription from their doctor would be prohibitive. The authors did confirm that supplements are safe, and that there is ‘no harm in having patients continue these preparations as long as they perceive a benefit and cover the costs of treatment themselves.’ You can read about the positive and negative trials, if you are interested, on my nutritional medicine website.

Everyone is different, and the only way to know if glucosamine supplements will help you is to try them. In my experience, 2 out of 3 people notice a significant improvement in joint pain, joint stiffness and backache when taking glucosamine. Benefits are usually seen within one to two months of taking glucosamine regularly.

Which glucosamine is best?

Initially, only glucosamine sulphate (sulfate) extracted from the shells of crabs and shrimp was available, so this was the form used in early clinical trials. Now, other forms such as glucosamine hydrochloride are available and the evidence that one is better than the other is less convincing. Both glucosamine sulphate and glucosamine hydrochloride act like prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), reducing pain and inflammation by blocking the production of an enzyme known as COX-2.

Glucosamine sulphate supplies additional sulphur/sulfur which may have an independent anti-inflammatory action. One form includes sodium (glucosamine sulphate NaCl) and one includes potassium (glucosamine sulphate 2KCl). Both are equally effective but if you are cutting back on salt/sodium intake (for example because you have high blood pressure) then select the 2KCl form.

Glucosamine hydrochloride (HCl) provides a more concentrated supplement that, weight for weight, supplies 40% more glucosamine than glucosamine sulphate, so tablets are smaller.

Glucosamine is often combined with other ingredients, especially chondroitin sulphate or MSM (methyl-sulphonyl-methane) which have complementary actions.

Chondroitin supplies additional building blocks for making cartilage, and also inhibits enzymes involved in cartilage breakdown, while MSM has an anti-inflammatory action.

I recommend starting with a glucosamine supplement as the cheapest option. If you don’t achieve the expected reduction in symptoms within 2 months, upgrade to glucosamine plus chondroitin and/or MSM. If financial cost is not a consideration, then you may wish to start taking a glucosamine plus chondroitin sulphate supplement straight away.

The most important factor is to select good quality supplements, made to a pharmaceutical standard known as GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice). This ensures that you get a consistent dose with the stated amount of glucosamine in each tablet.

Glucosamine dose

The therapeutic dose established in clinical trials is 1500mg glucosamine per day. It’s a good idea to start taking this dose for 2 months to assess how you respond. Once your symptoms have improved, you could try cutting back to 1000mg or even 750mg per day to see if improvement is maintained at the lower dose. If not, switch back up to the full 1500mg per day. All glucosamine supplements are best taken with food to maximise absorption.

Oral glucosamine supplements can be used alongside rub-in pain relief creams and gels for additional benefit.

Click here to read my review of glucosamine gels and other topical pain relieving creams.

Click here to read my review of the best non-prescription painkillers.

Click here to discover the 9 best supplements for painful knees.

Have you taken an oral glucosamine supplement? If so, what for? How long did they take to work?

If you have any questions or comments, please use the form below.

Image credit: frauke_feind / pixabay

About Dr Sarah Brewer

QUORA EXPERT - TOP WRITER 2018 Dr Sarah Brewer MSc (Nutr Med), MA (Cantab), MB, BChir, RNutr, MBANT, CNHC qualified from Cambridge University with degrees in Natural Sciences, Medicine and Surgery. After working in general practice, she gained a master's degree in nutritional medicine from the University of Surrey. Sarah is a registered Medical Doctor, a registered Nutritionist and a registered Nutritional Therapist. She is an award winning author of over 60 popular self-help books and a columnist for Prima magazine.

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12 thoughts on “Glucosamine For Joints

  • richards

    Joint pain is extremely common and can be caused by everything from strains and injuries to conditions like bursitis and arthritis.

  • Cem Kurtuldu

    Hello Dear Dr. Sarah Brewer

    i ride bicycle twice a week , its approximetly 50 km/per tour

    After 50 km’s workout, my anterior knee pain start.

    Which brand i should buy and which dosage i should take a day

    thanks in advance
    Cem K.

    • Dr Sarah Brewer

      Hi Cem, that’s a gruelling schedule! Elite athlete’s tend to take high doses of glucosamine, chondroitin, collagen and antiinflammatories such as omega 3, turmeric, rosehip or ginger. If you are in competition, you will need a brand that is Informed Sport accredited (checked to ensure they only contain sports’ permitted ingredients). If you are in the UK, then Healthspan Elite is a leading brand. If you live elsewhere, you can find Informed Sport certified products HERE. Best wishes, Sarah B

  • bob

    Once again thanks for your quick reply.
    It’s ok I’m not taking anything designed for dogs, my vet recommended my dog to take normal human collagen.
    Is there any difference between collagen tablets and collagen powder? If you had to choose which one would you go for?


  • bob

    Thanks for your quick and helpful reply.
    I’ve read your other article, very helpful and cleared up my confusion.
    Do you have an opinion on the difference between collagen in tablets or powder? The collagen type 1 (that did help my dog) I can get easily where I live is half the price in tablet form as opposed to powder for the same brand.

    Am I OK to take collagen type 1 and 2 and glucosamine & chondroitin together?
    In the past I have bought glucosamine from simply supplements as they are cheap but I never really noticed any difference, do I need better (more expensive) brand or should I try a different supplement instead?

    Sorry for all the question, many thanks!!

    • Dr Sarah Brewer

      Hi Bob, Type 1 collagen is mainly found in skin tendons and ligaments, etc, and makes up 90% of collagen in the body. Type 2 collagen is the type found in cartilage. Hydrolysed collagen (usually from marine sources) provides building blocks that can improve your joints and your skin. Yest it’s find to take collagen glucosamine and chondroitin together. I wouldn’t recommend that you take a product designed for dogs!

  • bob

    from what I’ve read, glucosamine and chondroitin are basically collagen type 2, but you say take it with food whereas everywhere else Ive read says take collagen type 2 on an empty stomach with vitamin C.
    Why the polar opposites?

  • Carol Radford

    I have taken glucosamine & chondroitin for over 6 months and have a slight improvement enjoyed the article as learnt about grading and may now look into this,


  • Derek

    Awesome post!

    I always wondered what exactly this was used for.

    I tore my mlc a few years ago in my knee and I know my knee will ever be the same, but would taking these supplements helps support the ligaments and surrounding ligaments?

    Also, my dad has a bad back and had a slip disk when he was younger. I know that this can be genetic and lately I have tweaked my back a few times and I am scared it will happen to me. Will this help reduce the chance of this happening?


    • Dr Sarah Brewer

      Hi Derek, There is research that suggests glucosamine strengthens intervertebral discs so they are less likely to slip out of place. Although there are no guarantees, it is likely to help. And as a bonus, recent research suggests the anti-inflammatory action of glucosamine is associated with living longer than people who don’t take it. Win win!