Glucosamine & Chondroitin: FAQs
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | May 21, 2002

The food supplement glucosamine is a topic we've been getting lots of questions about, so here are answers to the frequently asked questions (FAQs):

What is glucosamine?
Glucosamine, a substance naturally produced in the body, is made up of an amine and a sugar. It's the building block for several important substances found in the joints of the body, including chondroitin and synovial fluid, the substance that lubricates joints.

Where does glucosamine come from?Glucosamine supplements are derived from shellfish, such as shrimp and lobsters. Consequently, people with an allergy to shellfish should not use glucosamine.

What's the difference between glucosamine hydrochloride (HCl) and glucosamine sulfate (S)?
Organic substances such as glucosamine deteriorate relatively quickly when exposed to light, air, or water. In order to keep them stable, the molecules are attached to another molecule (chloride and sulfate respectively) to keep them stable until they reach the digestive system. The molecules are then broken down and the glucosamine is absorbed (the chloride or sulfate is used in other biochemical functions).

The major difference is that glucosamine HCl appears to contain more usable glucosamine than the sulfate form. That means if you take the same milligrams of each form of glucosamine, you will have more available glucosamine from the HCl form than the S form. Once absorbed, there is no difference in the way the body uses the glucosamine.

What is chondroitin and do I need it?
Chondroitin is made up of two glucosamine molecules joined with a chemical bond. That means it's at least twice as large as the glucosamine molecule itself. Some experts question whether chondroitin can be absorbed, but the research on absorption is less than clear. Your body should make all the chondroitin you need from the glucosamine your body produces or the supplements you take. Chondroitin supplementation is probably not necessary.

However, chondroitin seems to be effective in some cases, and people want to know why. Here is a possible answer--and please remember that this is purely speculative based on the biochemistry of the body. There may be a small group of people who don't produce enough of the enzyme required to make chondroitin from glucosamine. These are the people who benefit from taking chondroitin. Future research may provide more insight into this issue.

What is glucosamine for?
Think of glucosamine as a foundation substance. It can be used to make cartilage for the joints, so it may benefit people with joint disorders such as arthritis. But that's not all. It may benefit any type of damaged connective tissue such as muscle, tendon, or bone. It also seems to help the body produce natural anti-inflammatory that can help reduce swelling.

With the name glucosamine, does it affect blood sugar?
While there have been several animal studies that have shown some effect, research in humans has not found an effect on blood glucose levels when people take glucosamine.

Some glucosamine products seem to have other things like boswellia, bromelain, and vitamin C. What are they?
Boswellia is an herb made from the leaves of the boswellia serrata tree. It has been commonly used to reduce inflammation and relax blood vessels. The latter function is important for joint repair, because the body's joints have a poor blood supply--that's why it takes a long time for healing to occur. Boswellia may improve the circulation and promote healing.

Bromelain is an enzyme from pineapple. It acts like an anti-inflammatory if taken without food. It reduces inflammation by breaking down proteins (damaged connective tissue) in the joints. But if it's taken with food, it helps break down protein in the food and thus may not reach the desired location.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is necessary for the repair of all connective tissue.

Can I give glucosamine to my dog?
Yes but check with your veterinarian for the amount you should give your pet.
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