The years of teaching high impact aerobics are catching up with me. Sure it’s been great for the ticker, but the knees on the other hand are showing signs of age and making icky noises. What my Physical Therapist friends call “creep” and “crepitus” (which is just nice technical way of saying “grinding”) had become loud enough to be heard by the naked ear! At the rate I was going – I was sure I’d need a knee replacement by 40. Of course this just won’t do. So I’ve taken to doing leg extensions regularly and… taking glucosamine.
Glucosamine – What’s That?
“Glucosamine” is a natural constituent of cartilage which has been shown to stimulate the production of connective tissue! In more technical terms, glucosamine is considered an “amino sugar.” An amino sugar is the component of a carbohydrate which does not contribute to the body’s energy – instead it gets incorporated into body tissues, forming such structures as tendons, ligaments, bones, skin, nails, eyes and heart valves.
What is Glucosamine Used For?
Glucosamine supplements have been used most recently (according to the research I consulted) for everything from joint pain to connective tissue repair. It’s best know for its contribution to tendon and ligament support, for building joint cartilage as well as reducing destruction of cartilage. It has also shown promise in reducing inflammation due to asthma and bursitis, lessen the incidence of food allergies, tendonitis and skin problems! As if that isn’t enough – what I find most exciting about glucosamine is its use in relief of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
How Glucosamine Works
It’s fairly basic. We produce less glucosamine as we age, therefore our cartilage has difficulty retaining water. Depletion of this fluid, which ads “cushion” to the joints and other tissues, can create everything from joint pain to arthritis. Glucosamine (together with its counterpart chondroitin – another naturally occurring substance) – helps to counteract this water loss as well as restore cartilage.
So What’s the bad news? I always want to know. Here’s what I found: Since these substances are naturally occurring – they work on the body differently than synthetic drugs (think Prednisone) or anti-inflam’s like Naproxen. This said – it takes a while to notice signs of joint help – more than likely it could take up to a year of regular supplementation before the benefits take hold. Once they do, however, 50% of all regular users have reported definite decreases in symptoms of joint pain – I will let you know! The only other downside I could find to the glucosamine/chondroitin complex users were nausea and heartburn – although they are rare and counteracted by eating prior to supplementation.
As I’ve just stated, always take the glucosamine/chondroitin complex with meals to avoid side effects. I take one, 500 mg tablet once a day. Dr. Mindell (I am a big fan of his work: see below) recommends taking just 1-3 500 mg. tabs daily for three weeks (to get a boost), then take one, 500 mg. tab daily.
My Usual Disclaimer:
As always, please check with your healthcare provider before supplementation – discuss with him/her any medications you are taking to avoid interactions. Although herbs and other naturally occurring substances are considered “food” (simply because they can’t be patented and trademarked thus cannot come under scrutiny of the FDA) they are still very strong substances in the body and should not be taken lightly! Check out more literature – educate yourself!
My Favorite Resources (and research sources for this article) Include:
Balch, Phyllis A., CNC. Prescriptions for Nutritional Healing. New York: Penguin Putnam, 2004.
Khalsa, Dharma Singh, M.D. Food As Medicine. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.
Mindell, Earl, R.P.h., Ph.D. The Vitamin Bible. New York: Warner Books, 2004.
Mindell, Earl, R.P.h., Ph.D. Prescription Alternatives. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.