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Does Glucosamine Work?

Glucosamine and Chondroitin are common over the counter supplements that are marketed as a treatment for arthritis and joint pains. These can be purchased in pill form in nearly every pharmacy. They are also the active ingredients in the drink “Joint Juice”. These supplements are often marketed as being able to rebuild cartilage, and many patients purchase these supplements for that reason. In a sense, people are led to believe that these pills can turn back time and re-grow the cartilage that is worn away by arthritis. At least once per week a patient asks for my opinion on whether these supplements work. Unfortunately, there is not a simple yes or no answer.

So here we go…….
By way of background, arthritis is a disease where the cartilage is worn away. Cartilage is essentially the buffer between the bones forming a joint. So, when the cartilage is gone the bones start to grind on each other. Arthritis is an incredibly common problem, which causes pain and stiffness for many people. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to regrow that cartilage that is worn away?

Cartilage is composed of many things, but one of its main ingredients are glucosamine and chondroitin. The question is, “Does eating glucosamine and chondroitin cause your body to rebuild cartilage?” Unfortunately, the answer to that is no! The body is more complicated than that. Sadly, we cannot regrow parts by simply eating the ingredients. If life were that simple, we could all become muscular by eating lots of protein without exercising, or we could regrow dead heart muscle (caused by a heart attack) by eating the proteins found in heart.

The news is not all bad for these supplements. Although they can’t turn back time, they may be able to ease your pain. Studies have shown that these medications do reduce pain caused by arthritis. Generally speaking they are about as effective as an anti-inflammatory medication such as Ibuprofen. Unfortunately, they are much more expensive than Ibuprofen.

Here are my take home points:
1. Glucosamine and Chondroitin may decrease pain caused by arthritis
2. They are about as effective as Ibuprofen
3. They cost a lot more
4. Glucosamine and Chondroitin do not regrow cartilage that is worn away by arthritis

Brad Carofino, MD Dr. Brad Carofino is a board-certified (American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery), fellowship-trained orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in shoulder & upper extremity surgery. Dr. Carofino is an expert in shoulder replacement surgery, minimally invasive arthroscopic rotator cuff repair, and complex reconstructive procedures of the upper extremity.

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I enjoy sharing this story because it is a testament to patient's who are seeking a solution to shoulder arthritis who want to remain highly active. I am grateful for patients like Fred who give me the opportunity to improve their overall quality of life!