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Condition - Glucosamine Explained

By Cathy Robinson BSc (Hons) DipNutMed MWNMS

Glucosamine is a widely known nutrient taken by many people who lead an active life or who are concerned about the comfort of their joints. However, do you know  exactly what it is, and what  glucosamine’s role is in our body?

Glucosamine is what is called an amino sugar, which, simply put, means a type of monosaccharide or simple sugar attached to an amine group.  Glucosamine is naturally produced in our bodies, but its production slows with age. It is a constituent of healthy cartilage and is naturally concentrated in the ligaments and tendons of the joints. Cartilage is a type of stiff, tough but flexible connective tissue found in many areas in the body. Cartilage in the joints is the rubbery material that provides cushioning against friction. 

As we age, an active lifestyle that is constantly putting pressure on our joints, particularly the knees, finger joints and hips, can take its toll. The cartilage that covers the ends of the bones can become thinner, resulting in the rubbing of bone against bone. This can lead to inflammation, stiffness and pain, along with reduced mobility of the joint. The cartilage can also become stiff and lose its elasticity, leading to inflexible, creaky joints. We may accidentally damage the joint through twisting, spraining or over-exercise.  Because cartilage contains no blood vessels, when it is damaged, it heals and repairs itself very slowly. As anyone who has suffered from uncomfortable joints will know, these sorts of problems can seriously impede enjoyment of life’s activities.

Luckily glucosamine may be very useful as it can provide the building blocks to produce new joint connective tissue. Glucosamine is needed to produce glycosaminoglycans which are a major component of cartilage, and which also have a role in the formation and repair of cartilage. These glycosaminoglycans (or GAGs) attract water and this assists in their cushioning function, keeping the joints well lubricated.

Indeed, many nutritionists recommend the hydrochloride form of glucosamine, which contains more glucosamine per gram than glucosamine sulphate, is more stable, and contains less salt. During the metabolism of glucosamine sulphate by the body, it is first converted to glucosamine hydrochloride in any case, so it seems logical to recommend the hydrochloride form. Studies have shown that at least 1500mg glucosamine per day should be taken for best results. Glucosamine is best taken for at least three months in order to evaluate its benefits. 

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