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What is glucosamine? Why do we need it?

Glucosamine is an important building block used by the body to manufacture specialized molecules in cartilage called clycosaminoglycans. It is not a typical part of the human diet; however, there are several forms of glucosamine available, the most common of which is glucosamine sulfate.

Glucosamine sulfate is usually stabilized with one of two mineral salts - sodium chloride or potassium chloride. Much of the research into glucomasine sulfate has used the sodium chloride-stabilized form. Many people often take glucosamine in combination with another supplement, chondroitin.

Glucosamine sulfate has been used primarily to treat the symptoms of osteoarthritis and other types of pain, such as knee pain, wrist pain, and sprains and strains. Glucosamine also appears to promote wound healing.

How much glucosamine should I take?

For the symptoms of osteoarthritis, most adults take 500 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate three times per day. It is often taken in conjunction with chondroitin sulfate and manganese ascorbate.

What forms of glucosamine are available?

Glucosamine is derived from the shells of shrimps, lobsters and crabs. A synthetic form of glucosamine can also be produced. Glucosamine is available as a capsule, tablet or powder. It is usually taken with meals.

What can happen if I take too much glucosamine? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Large amounts of glucosamine may cause mild gastrointestinal problems in some sensitive individuals, but the side-effects are reversible and will disappear upon discontinuing use. People with peptic ulcers and those taking diuretics are more likely to experience gastrointestinal discomfort than others. People who are allergic to shellfish should not take glucosamine supplements derived from shrimp, crabs or lobsters.

Animal studies have shown that glucosamine could theoretically make a person insulin resistant or raise a person's blood sugar levels. As a result, people taking glucosamine for extended periods should have their blood sugar levels checked periodically, and people with diabetes should consult with a health care provider before taking glucosamine supplements. Glucosamine sulfate processed with sodium chloride should be avoided by people on restricted diets or people with high blood pressure.

As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions with glucosamine. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking glucosamine or any other dietary supplement or herbal remedy.


  • Houpt JB, McMillan R, Wein C, Paget-Dellio SD. Effect of glucosamine hydrochloride in the treatment of pain of osteoarthritis of the knee. J Rheumatol 1999;26:2423-30.
  • McAlindon TE, LaValley MP, Gulin JP, Felson DT. Glucosamine and chondroitin for treatment of OA. A systematic quality assessment and meta-analysis. JAMA 2000;283:1469-75.
  • Reginster JY, Deroisy R, Rovati L, et al. Long-term effects of glucosamine sulphate on osteoarthritis progression: a randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Lancet 2001;357:251-6.
  • Russell AI, McCarty MF. Glucosamine in osteoarthritis. Lancet 1999;354:1641; discussion 1641-2
  • Virkamaki A, Daniels MC, Hamalainen S, et al. Activation of the hexosamine pathway by glucosamine in vivo induces insulin resistance in multiple insulin sensitive tissues. Endocrinology 1997;138:2501-7.
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