Osteoarthritis(OA) is a highly prevalent condition that causes disabling pain and loss of physical function affecting about 240 million people worldwide. It is the most common form of arthritis and causes thinning and roughening of the the connective tissue that covers the surface of your joints called “cartilage”, which helps joints move smoothly. Breaking down of the cartilage and underlying bone leads to pain and stiffness in the joints. This can range from mild to severe and most commonly affects the hands, hips and knees therefore it can have a huge impact on someone’s daily living.
According to NZ data collection on this condition, OA affects around 10% of New Zealand adults with risk factors for the condition ranging from genetic ,dietary, obesity, occupation factors and sports participation etc.
The most common joint OA affects is the knee, with the hip coming in at a close second which, if debilitating enough, can result in the person needing knee or hip joint replacements. According to The New Zealand Joint Registry in 2019:8,431 and 9,449 surgeries were performed for the knee and hip, respectively, where a vast majority of the time the primary diagnosis was OA. This number is steadily increasing every year, making osteoarthritis an increasing health burden on many people in New Zealand.
Keep in mind that most people who have OA don’t have symptoms severe enough that warrant a joint replacement but can still have a severe impact on their life. So what can you do if you have been diagnosed with symptomatic OA? Physiotherapy and exercise is always recommended as a core treatment which will help strengthen the muscles that move your knee and also improve the sliding of your joint surfaces to reduce symptoms of pain and stiffness. Oral NSAIDs and paracetamol are common medications prescribed by doctors to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief. In addition to this glucosamine sulphate is a supplement that may have positive effects on this condition as well.
Glucosamine sulphate is a chemical sugar found naturally in the body that can help inhibit breakdown of cartilage and and potentially help build up cartilage in the joints. It functions as the primary building block for a large molecule in cartilage called a “proteoglycan” and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. When taken orally as a supplement, glucosamine sulphate is readily absorbed into the system and can be traced in cartilage as soon as four hours after consumption. Because OA is degeneration of the cartilage, this may help reduce symptoms and delay or slow its development.
The recent research on its effectiveness is currently not strong therefore patients who suffer from OA may or may not find relief from taking this and improvement may take as long as 8 weeks to appear. However, it is still a very popular supplement that can be found in pharmacies or health shops and is well tolerated by the body with minimal side effects. It is usually obtained from shellfish such as crab, lobster of shrimp shells, but some are made from a plant form of glucosamine. The current recommended dosage is typically 1,500mg per day and can be taken at once or in smaller doses throughout the day.
It is important that you consult with your health care provider before taking this supplement, particularly if you are taking anticoagulants (such as Warfarin) or have blood sugar problems, so that they can weigh the pros and cons of taking it. Generally, if there is no pain reduction after two months, there is little chance of improvement from taking glucosamine therefore the benefits from this supplement appears to be dependent on the individual.
Coupled with regular exercise, other oral medications and a healthy diet ,glucosamine may be the extra boost you need to finding relief from your osteoarthritis.