Know about the aggressively marketed glucosamine tablet before you pop it in expecting instant relief for your joint pains.
If you are hitting 50 and beginning to feel an ache in the joints, do consult your orthopaedician rather than popping a glucosamine supplementary pill, available easily over the counter.
Though there are no side effects of glucosamine, no research has shown it to be effective in cartilage growth and hence more supple joint movement. It is often recommended for people who have arthritis or osteoporosis, especially in the West, where supplements are heavily marketed.
Orthopaedic doctors explain that glucosamine is an amino sugar, an organic chemical compound, found naturally in the synovial fluid that surrounds our joints. Along with another substance chondroitin, it helps to keep the joints cushioned and lubricated. But with age and lack of exercise, the synovial fluid becomes thick and less elastic. That is when we experience stiffness or swelling in the ankle, knee and other joints.
Glucosamine is not a quick-fix solution to pain that arises from joint-related problems. In terms of its long-term effect, orthopaedic surgeon Dr Sathish Devadoss says the claimed benefits are based principally on clinical observations, and it may have a placebo effect.
Here too, Dr Kunal Dheep, Consultant Orthopaedician at Taj Orthopaedic Research Centre, Madurai, says that in those who do find an improvement, “It takes a minimum of three months for the effects of the supplement to set in, and it has no effect after three years of regular consumption.”
A randomised placebo-controlled clinical trial result published in The Lancet in 2001 says glucosamine supplementation has no additional effect on preventing or limiting joint damage. Another study in 2015 on sportspersons led to the same conclusion. A study published in Clinical Drug Investigation in June 2004 examined the efficacy of glucosamine alone and in combination with few other substances such as chondroitin sulfate (a cartilage component) and Methylsulphonilmethane (MSM) that helps with joint pain. The researchers found that combination therapy was a tad more effective in reducing pain and swelling.
“A combination may help collectively in pain relief management but it may not be the right choice for those with diabetes or a failing liver, for people with a heart condition or those with kidney disease, high blood pressure or bleeding disorders. It may lead to increased sugar levels in some,” says Dr Dheep.
When recommending it to people in the off chance that they may get relief, “I inform them it is a non-vegetarian tablet made from shellfish,” says Dr Devadoss and adds that it is not universally effective, like the vitamin or zinc tablets recommended during the corona pandemic.
Many fruits and vegetables, ingredients like turmeric, chocolate, tea, offer anti-inflammatory benefits that are often found in joint supplements alongside glucosamine and can work better than the glucosamine nutrition supplements to keep the joints supple, say the medicos.