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Glucosamine and Chondroitin

08/06/2015

Glucosamine and Chondroitin supplements

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all you had to do to eat right, exercise enough, have gorgeous hair and skin and joints that never wear out would be take a tablet? Just pop a few pills, and health will be yours for ever.  As you may have guessed from my slightly cynical start, this just doesn’t happen.  Sadly.

On the other hand, some people strongly believe that dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin will help them maintain their joints.  They report a reduction in pain from arthritic joints and an increase in the function of those joints when they start to take these supplements.  But do they actually work?  What does the evidence say – that holy grail of all healthcare professionals, to have the scientific backing to PROVE what they are saying is true.

The first thing to realise is that both glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally occurring substances in your cartilage.  Cartilage provides the padding between your joints, covering the ends of your bones, and when this starts to wear down it is called osteoarthritis.  So if you are running low on these two parts of that padding, surely taking a supplement containing them will help preserve your cartilage?

The simple answer is not really.  The benefits of glucosamine and chondroitin that the adverts so boldly proclaim are mostly from laboratory studies.  Clinical studies – which investigate the actual benefits on patients, as opposed to on lab rats or other “not-real” situations – have shown that there is no change in the actual pain levels or function of people suffering from joint pain, arthritis or sports injuries.  The benefits of taking them as a preventative measure, before symptoms even start to appear, are equally unsupported in the scientific world.  Of course, outside of the cost of regularly buying such supplements, there are very few negative side-effects from taking the supplements either, so at least that’s in their favour!

This being so, how come so many people swear by the stuff? Well, science is great and I wholeheartedly support the effort of everyone in the medical world to gather enough evidence to show what works and how, and what doesn’t.  On the other hand, I feel we have to make a small nod in the direction of the power of the mind.  Somewhat disparagingly spoken of as the “placebo effect”, the mind is capable of performing absolute miracles on the body.  So do chondroitin and glucosamine supplements have any effect whatsoever on the joints? In all likelihood, no.  But can taking a supplement like that, and having your mind completely believe it is going to make a life-changing difference, cause your body to do things we would otherwise believe impossible? Absolutely!

So no, chondroitin and glucosamine won’t help in any way we can measure scientifically.  But the people who report that they have had huge benefits from taking the supplements are probably the recipients of the wonderful miracle the mind can work on the body.

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