In recent years, glucosamine and chondroitin have been widely promoted as a treatment for osteoarthritis. Glucosamine, an amino sugar, is thought to promote the formation and repair of cartilage. Chondroitin, a carbohydrate, is a cartilage component that is thought to promote water retention and elasticity and to inhibit the enzymes that break down cartilage. Both compounds are manufactured by the body.
Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) occur naturally in the body. The glucosamine used in supplements is typically derived from the shells of crabs although a corn source is also available. Glucosamine is available in a variety of chemical forms, such as glucosamine hydrochloride and glucosamine sulfate. These vary in terms of the amount of actual glucosamine available for use in the body from an equal weight of each form. Chondroitin sulfate is generally derived from cow cartilage, but porcine (pig) and even chicken cartilage has been used and algae are another potential source. MSM is synthetically produced.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements are used to slow the progression of osteoarthritis – the deterioration of cartilage between joint bones – and to reduce the associated pain. Glucosamine is thought to promote the formation and repair of cartilage. Chondroitin is believed to promote water retention and elasticity in cartilage and inhibit enzymes that break down cartilage.