Glucosamine plays a crucial role in understanding osteoarthritis.  People who suffer from osteoarthritis say it’s difficult to describe the discomfort it brings. Like migraines, it’s a special misery that’s hard to explain.

Osteoarthritis develops when cartilage – the rubbery cushions between joints – loses its flexibility and causes discomfort, swelling and pain. It also makes the joint prone to damage.

Osteoarthritis usually develops because with age the body slows its production of glucosamine, a compound of glucose and the amino acid glutamine. Glucosamine in turn is needed to form glycosaminoglycan, which in turn produces hyaluronic acid (HA), which is crucial to the development and repair of cartilage.

Essentially it acts as a lubricant, so by boosting your glucosamine levels, you can boost your body’s natural efforts to maintain the health of your joints. It’s available as an over-the-counter supplement and is mainly extracted from chitin, which is found in the outer shells, or exoskeletons, of arthropods, including insects, scorpions, shrimp, crabs and crayfish.

Research into chitin has been done since 1811, but in recent years its health benefits have become more apparent. Research by the University of Delaware Sea Grant College Program found that chitin has a strong positive charge, so it easily binds with negatively charged material, including macromolecules such as proteins.

The journal Archives of Internal Medicine reported that a study examined more than 200 osteoarthritis sufferers over three years, giving one group a placebo and the other 1 500mg of glucosamine each day. Those taking glucosamine had much less pain and stiffness, but the real evidence was in X-rays of their joints, which narrowed far less in the group taking glucosamine than in the group taking the placebo.

That’s good news for osteoarthritis sufferers, and ongoing research suggests glucosamine can be used to treat chronic bowel conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Dermatologists are excited about its prospects because hyaluronic acid is one of the three main components of the layer of deep skin, the dermis. Hyaluronic acid also helps the skin retain moisture, which keeps it looking young.

Caution is advertised if you’re allergic to shellfish and extreme allergies warrant extreme caution. Several sources suggest buying only reputable, well-known brands and analysis by ConsumerLab found that some supplements contained far less glucosamine that stated on the packaging.

A number of side-effects have been noted, including increased blood-pressure, rapid heart rate and palpitations. These are rare, but more common side-effects include insomnia, drowsiness and several conditions, like gas, indigestion and diarrhoea. Speak to your doctor if you’re taking blood-thinning medication and want to take glucosamine as well.

Some studies have noted that glucosamine isn’t always effective for all people, but there's not likely to be harm taking it in the indicated dosages. As with other supplements, stick to the indicated dosages to avoid side-effects.

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