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If Your Joints Ache, Can Glucosamine Help Ease the Pain?

Joint pain makes almost everything you do more difficult. The stiffness, swelling and aching can start when you get out of bed, worsen as you walk or climb stairs, and even flare up with changes in the weather.

You’ve probably heard people recommend glucosamine as a supplement that can help ease your joint pain. But does it work? Or is it just a waste of your money?

What is glucosamine?

“Glucosamine is a natural chemical compound that’s found in cartilage, which is the tissue that cushions your joints,” said Holly Beach, MD, a primary care sports medicine specialist at Banner – University Medicine Orthopedics Clinic in Tucson, AZ.

It’s not found in foods we generally eat so if you want to increase your glucosamine intake, you’ll need to try a supplement. Supplements are typically made from shellfish shells. There are also synthetic versions on the market.

Does glucosamine work?

“Studies are mixed, but in theory glucosamine can help to slow down cartilage breakdown in your joints, especially your knee, and can reduce pain,” Dr. Beach said. “There is some evidence that glucosamine can slow the progression of osteoarthritis.”However, glucosamine seems to work best when you start taking it earlier, before your arthritis pain gets severe.

If you want to try a supplement, how should you pick one?

Dr. Beach recommends choosing brands labeled with the NSF International, US Pharmacopeia, Underwriters Laboratory or Consumer Lab seal. “These labels confirm that the supplement contains the ingredients that the label says it does, and that the product doesn’t have any additional, potentially harmful ingredients,” she said.

You should also talk to your doctor about using glucosamine to help manage your joint pain and see what dosage your doctor recommends. Many supplement brands recommend 500 milligrams three times a day.

What are the side effects and risks of glucosamine?

“Side effects are rare and minimal, so it may be a reasonable supplement to try if you have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis,” Dr. Beach said.

Possible side effects include gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, heartburn, diarrhea, or constipation; drowsiness or fatigue; and rashes.

It’s also important to know that glucosamine can interact with Warfarin, a blood thinner that is often prescribed to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. So, taking both glucosamine and Warfarin can increase your risk of bleeding.

What else can you do to keep your joints healthy and free of pain?

To keep joint pain to a minimum, here’s what Dr. Beach recommends:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Practice primarily low-impact exercises to reduce the stress on your joints
  • Work on maintaining or increasing your flexibility and range of motion
  • Keep active—stay in motion to keep your muscles strong so they can support your joints
  • Know your limits and don’t push through your joint pain

The bottom line

If you have osteoarthritis, you might want to give glucosamine a try to reduce your joint pain and help slow the progression of arthritis. Talk to your doctor to learn more about whether glucosamine is a smart choice for you.

To find a doctor who can help you get your joint pain under control, visit bannerhealth.com.

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