Are Cartilage Enhancing Supplements Safe?

Ernesto Luciano-Perez, MD, of Virginia Orthopaedic & Spine Specialists

Ernesto Luciano-Perez, MD, Medical Director of Bon Secours Sports Medicine

Recently there has been a growing interest in the use of cartilage protecting substances in the US. Because they are viewed as a form of alternative medicine, chondroitin protective agents have been classified as nutritional supplements, which are usually are not regulated by the FDA.

While not accepted widely by physicians, the general public has embraced the use of these therapies. In fact, in recent surveys up to 50% of people polled believed that their use resulted in a cure for their condition. As an orthopaedic surgeon, I am often asked about the efficacy of both chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate, in the treatment of osteoarthritis.

Many structural and biochemical changes occur to cartilage with the onset of arthritis. Simplistically, glucosamine is an amino sugar precursor to GAC (glycosaminogylcans). Chondroitin is the most abundant GAC in cartilage. In theory both have the ability to:

  1. Stimulate cartilage component growth
  2. Provide mild anti-inflammatory action and inhibit degenerative enzymes

Several clinical studies have shown symptomatic improvement with the use of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate. However, claims of radiographic improvement have not been proven. And the use of these substances should be controlled. For instance, oral use of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate is not recommended for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, gout, nor is recommended for use in pregnant women and children.

If you are interested in pursuing this alternative therapy, the recommended dose for patients weighing less than 120 lbs is 1,000 mg of Glucosamine and 800 mg of Chondroitin Sulfate. Those weighing 120 to 200lbs should receive 1,500 mg of Glucosamine and 1,200 mg of Chondroitin Sulfate. For people weighing more than 200lbs, 2,000 mg of Glucosamine and 1,600 mg of Chondroitin Sulfate is recommended.

As with any supplement, anyone considering the use of these substances should talk to their doctor beforehand.

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