Glucosamine sulfate supplements are usually taken to ease joint pain caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
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Natural sources of glucosamine are limited mostly to the shells of shellfish, which are commonly used to make glucosamine supplements, although supplements can also be synthesized in a laboratory.
There are different forms of glucosamine including glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride and N-acetyl glucosamine. Most of the scientific research on glucosamine is on glucosamine sulfate.
There are no natural sources of glucosamine in food. Supplements are made from the shells of shellfish such as lobsters and shrimp, or synthetically.
Natural Sources of Glucosamine
Glucosamine is a natural compound found in healthy cartilage — the tough tissue that cushions joints — and particularly in the fluid around the joints.
For dietary supplements, glucosamine is harvested from the shells of shellfish (like shrimp, lobster and crab) or made synthetically in a laboratory.
There are no natural food sources of glucosamine other than shellfish shells, per the Mayo Clinic. But, there are many supplements available. You will often see glucosamine sold in combination with chondroitin sulfate in a supplement form.
The Arthritis Foundation lists a recommended dosage of 500 milligrams to 3 grams of glucosamine and chondroitin a day in divided doses for at least a month.
There are many conditions for which glucosamine sulfate supplements are recommended with little scientific backing, in addition to osteoarthritis. These include:
- Joint pain caused by drugs called aromatase inhibitors (aromatase inhibitor-induced arthralgias)
- Heart disease
- Knee pain
- Multiple sclerosis
- Recovery after surgery
- Jaw pain
- Glaucoma (a group of eye disorders that can lead to vision loss).
- Joint pain
- Painful bladder syndrome
- Weight loss
Taking glucosamine sulfate can provide some pain relief for people with osteoarthritis, particularly osteoarthritis of the knees, although not enough to prevent the need for pain medication during flare-ups, per the National Library of Medicine.
Still, evidence is inconclusive as to whether this supplement is actually effective. A July 2016 study in Arthritis and Rheumatology studied chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate combination therapy to reduce joint pain and functional impairment in people with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis over 6 months. The study did not find any real reduction of joint pain among users compared with those taking a placebo.
Note that glucosamine is a dietary supplement, not a medicine, and that means the FDA does not regulate its effectiveness, safety or labeling, per the National Capitol Poison Control.
Some glucosamine products have been found to contain less or more glucosamine than was listed on the label. In other cases, the product was found to be contaminated.
In general, glucosamine and glucosamine supplements are believed to be safe for most people. Potential risks, according to Harvard Health Publishing, include:
- Abdominal pain
- Skin reactions
- Allergic reactions, especially for people with an existing allergy to shellfish
In addition, there are several different kinds of glucosamine products on the market. Research showing benefits usually relates to glucosamine sulfate while products that contain glucosamine hydrochloride are generally found to be less effective, per the Arthritis Foundation.
- Warfarin: Taking the blood clotting medication warfarin with glucosamine supplements could increase the risk of bleeding.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol): There is also some concern that taking glucosamine for joints along with acetaminophen may affect how each medication works.
- National Library of Medicine: "Glucosamine Sulfate"
- Mayo Clinic: "Glucosamine"
- Arthritis and Rheumatology: "Combined Treatment With Chondroitin Sulfate and Glucosamine Sulfate Shows No Superiority Over Placebo for Reduction of Joint Pain and Functional Impairment in Patients With Knee Osteoarthritis: A Six‐Month Multicenter, Randomized, Double‐Blind, Placebo‐Controlled Clinical Trial"
- Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Health Blog: "The Latest on Glucosamine/Chondroitin Supplements"
- Arthritis Foundation: "Chondroitin Sulfate and Glucosamine Supplements in Osteoarthritis"
- National Capitol Poison Center: "What You Need to Know about Glucosamine"
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Glucosamine and Chondroitin for Osteoarthritis"
- The Arthritis Foundation: "Glucosamine"