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How does Glucosamine and Chondroitin Work

By: Richard Stenlake, Compounding Chemist
Article used with permission.

Richard Stenlake is a registered pharmacist who owns the largest compounding pharmacy in Australia. Over many years he has pioneered the introduction of innovative medication ideas to the Australian market.

Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes pain, inflammation and limited joint movement.

In osteoarthritis the joint that is affected has degenerated cartilage. As this is the cushion between the joints, one gets bone rubbing against bone and thus pain, inflammation and lack of mobility follows. Up until now the only relief from this pain was by way of treatment with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. brufen, orudis) or by injection with steroids (e.g. cortisone). However, these only mask the symptoms and relieve the pain, and the disease continues to get worse. Thus, the spiral continues increasing the dose as the pain worsens. However here we create another problem as these drugs have deleterious side effects and may in fact cause certain features of osteoarthritis to progress faster.

Thus over the years the only relief that may be obtained is joint replacement by your surgeon. Even with artificial joints, the problem is not solved as these too have a finite life and will have to be replaced further down the road.

A NEW APPROACH

In the last few years, excellent results have been achieved with a combination of natural nutritional supplements. In many cases these have been able to slow and eventually eliminate disease. This approach includes a combination of glucosamine and chrondroiton sulfate. These are substances we already consume and are produced in small amounts in our bodies and as such have no known side effects. There has been extensive study done on them, which has proved that both glucosamine and chondroitan work in both humans and animals.

WHAT IS GLUCOSAMINE AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

Firstly, healthy cartilage needs three things: water for lubrication and nourishment, proteoglycans to attract and hold the water, and collagen to keep the proteoglycans in place.

Proteoglycans are like a rope that threads itself through the collage and are essential as they hold many times their own weight of water, which both lubricates and nourishes the collagen. If the cartilage is damaged the thread of rope becomes weak and ‘leaks’ out and thus the collagen loses its nourishment as the proteoglycans lose their grip and float away. Thus the cartilage cannot withstand shocks, cracks and may wear out completely.

Glucosamine is a major building block of the water–loving proteoglycans. Besides being a building block for the synthesis of proteoglycans, its mere presence acts as a stimulus to the cells that produce proteoglycans. In fact glucosamine is a key factor in determining how many proteoglycans are produced by the cells.

Glucosamine has been shown to speed up production of both proteoglycans and collagen and it normalises cartilage metabolism which helps keep cartilage from breaking down.

Thus the affect of glucosamine on cartilage metabolism helps the body to repair damaged or eroded cartilage. In other words, glucosamine strengthens your body’s natural repair mechanisms. Besides stimulating cartilage production, glucosamine also reduces joint pain and inflammation.

CHONDROITON SULFATE

Where glucosamine helps form the proteoglycans that sit within the space in the cartilage, chrondroiton sulfate acts like ‘liquid magnets’. Chrondroiton is a long chain of repeating nigans that attracts fluid into the proteoglycan molecules.

This is important for two reasons: The fluid acts as a spongy shock absorber and the fluid sweeps the nutrients into the cartilage. Joint cartilage has no blood supply thus all of its nourishment and lubrication comes from the fluid that ebbs and flows as pressure is applied and released to the joint. Without this fluid, cartilage becomes malnourished, drier, thinner and fragile.

HOW CHONDROITON SULFATE WORKS

Chondoiton Sulfate is a long chain molecule with a negative charge attached to it. As these chains wrap around proteoglycans they repel each other and thus create spaces between each proteoglycan. These are what are known as matrixes within the cartilage and this is where the fluid flows. There may be as many as 10,000 of these chains on a single proteoglycan molecule – thus we have a super water retainer as these chains make sure all these molecules are away from each other and cannot clump together. Besides drawing in precious fluid, chrondroiton protects cartilage, stops it from breaking down and inhibits certain ‘cartilage chewing’ enzymes.

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Be sure to visit the Glucosamine Product Guide for a review of commercially available glucosamine products.




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