Glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate are naturally occurring substances found in the connective tissues of the body, including the cartilage that covers the ends of bones in the joints.

How Glucosamine Helps Osteoarthritis

Glucosamine sulfate functions as the primary building block for proteoglycans, large molecules in cartilage that give it viscoelastic (buffering) properties. This molecule stimulates the formation and repair of articular cartilage. When taken orally, glucosamine sulfate is absorbed readily into the system and can be traced to cartilage as soon as four hours after consumption.

Similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s, such as Cox-2 inhibitors), glucosamine sulfate has been shown to have unique anti-inflammatory effects. Additionally, in some laboratory tests, the glucosamine supplement demonstrated a protective effect on the cartilage. These studies suggest that glucosamine sulfate may inhibit the breakdown of cartilage associated with osteoarthritis and may have the potential to help build-up cartilage.1Deal, CL, "Neutraceuticals as Therapeutic Agents in Osteoarthritis," Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America May (1999); 379-395.

Glucosamine hydrochloride, another form of glucosamine, is also available as a nutritional supplement, but is considered less effective for the treatment of osteoarthritis. This is because the sulfate moiety, not present in this formulation, is believed to play an important role in strengthening the cartilage and aiding in proteoglycan synthesis. This hypothesis has not yet been confirmed.


How Chondroitin Helps Osteoarthritis

Chondroitin sulfate is a complex carbohydrate also found in cartilage that helps to retain water, thereby maintaining the integrity of the joint cavity. Chondroitin sulfate has been studied much less extensively, but early results show that it also seems to work as an anti-inflammatory and reduces joint pain. Some laboratory studies suggest that chondroitin sulfate may slow cartilage breakdown associated with osteoarthritis and even spur cartilage growth.1Deal, CL, "Neutraceuticals as Therapeutic Agents in Osteoarthritis," Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America May (1999); 379-395.

Both glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate are available in capsule form and are sold without prescriptions, like vitamins and other nutritional supplements.


Safe Use of Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Be aware that such supplements as glucosamine and chondroitin are not subject to approval by the FDA and do not fall under the same rigorous and strict standards that traditional medications do. Patients should ask their healthcare provider and their pharmacist for suggestions on which brands they believe to have the highest quality product.

See Dietary Supplements for Treating Arthritis

It would also be wise to contact the glucosamine or chondroitin manufacturer through the Internet or from addresses or phone numbers found on the bottle for more information concerning their methods of quality assurance for their product.

  • 1 Deal, CL, "Neutraceuticals as Therapeutic Agents in Osteoarthritis," Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America May (1999); 379-395.

Dr. Christopher Chaput is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in spine surgery. He practices in San Antonio, TX, and has more than 20 years of clinical experience. Dr. Chaput previously served as Director of the Division of Orthopedic Spine Surgery at Baylor Scott & White Health.