Glucosamine, chondroitin, and methyl sulfonyl methane (MSM) show promising results for reducing joint paint. Learn why these supplements can help you.
At age 57, Lianne had always felt physically fit and healthy until a tennis injury refused to heal; she was subsequently diagnosed with osteoarthritis in the right knee.
Lianne is not alone. Arthritis affects 4.5 million Canadians–one in five over the age of 15, more adults than cancer or heart disease–and it costs the Canadian economy $17 billion yearly in loss of work and health care expenses.
Of the many different types of arthritis, osteoarthritis–the type Lianne developed–is the most common form, affecting one in 10 Canadians. Inflammation of a joint–causing pain, stiffness, and limited mobility–is usually the telltale symptom.
Lianne knew conventional anti-inflammatories and cortisone treatments have terrible side effects, so she sought alternative advice. Fortunately the nutritional supplements glucosamine sulphate, chondroitin sulphate, and methyl sulfonyl methane (MSM) show promising results for reducing pain and inflammation. All three are naturally occurring compounds that the body produces to ensure optimum joint health.
While the exact mechanism is unclear, studies suggest that our bodies become less efficient at producing these compounds as we age, affecting cartilage and joint repair and consequently increasing the likelihood of injury and inflammation.
Here’s how these supplements helped Lianne and how they work to reduce inflammation.
Glucosamine sulphate is a protein and sugar compound needed to build cartilage and other connective tissue. Glucosamine also helps build the synovial (lubricating) fluid in the joint capsule, which together with the cartilage, acts as a buffer during physical activity.
Oral glucosamine supplements have shown glucosamine to be more successful than pharmaceutical non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) for reducing pain and inflammation. Glucosamine is not a pain reliever but addresses the underlying cause of arthritis by keeping the joints and cartilage healthy and aiding repair.
Work Best in Combination
Like glucosamine, chondroitin sulphate is another vital substance in the body–it is a complex sugar that increases the ability of cartilage to hold water.
Recent studies have shown positive results with oral supplements. One such clinical trial, the Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT) study, assessed more than 1,500 participants at 16 study centres across the US over a six-month time period, publishing results in 2006 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The outcome demonstrated glucosamine and chondroitin work best when taken together, with 79 percent of participants showing improvement for moderate to severe forms of osteoarthritis. When taken separately, glucosamine worked slightly better than chondroitin, but not as well as in combination. More than 50 other studies show glucosamine and chondroitin in combination reduce inflammation and improve joint mobility.
The Third in the Trio
MSM is a natural sulphur compound needed for several protein building blocks used in the joints and tissue throughout the body. While MSM is the least studied of the three supplements, it appears to work similarly to glucosamine and chondroitin in maintaining and repairing the structure of joint tissue. Evidence so far suggests MSM works by enhancing circulation and guarding against muscle spasms, thereby reducing pain and improving joint flexibility.
No Side Effects
There are no known interactions or side effects of glucosamine, chondroitin, or MSM, even in higher dosages and when taking conventional medications. If you are considering switching from a drug to a natural supplement, consult your doctor or pharmacist, since not all medications can be stopped without professional guidance.
Most products are allergen free, irrespective of their original source (glucosamine can be made from the shells of shrimp, crab, and other shellfish). If you have shellfish allergy or sensitivity to iodine, make sure you check the label and buy from reputable sources. While glucosamine may cause some fluctuation in glucose, the most recent study of more than 1,500 people noted no change in blood glucose levels, so diabetics need not worry.
After one month of supplementation with the anti-inflammatory trio, Lianne saw improvement in her right knee. The effect has lasted, and as soon as she was able to start tennis again, she took extra time to warm up and cool down and was particularly careful not to overextend herself to avoid re-injury.