In the past several years, glucosamine sulfate has gained in popularity as a supplement. But although many people are familiar with it, this does not necessarily mean we are all able to define what it is and how it can help us.
Glucosamine sulfate is an amino sugar that is made up of glucose and glutamine, an amino acid. When we think of sugar, we probably think of the sweet white stuff we bake with and stir into our iced tea, but amino sugars are quite different. Rather than being utilized as an energy source like traditional sugar, glucosamine sulfate is used in the structure of different tissues in our bodies, especially the cartilage found in our joints. In the joints, glucosamine sulfate’s chief job is to help make glycosaminoglycans, a critical part of our cartilage’s structure.
Technically, our bodies can make their own glucosamine, but as we age we become less able to do so. And unlike other natural supplements, there are really no food sources of glucosamine. So as we get older, we end up with smaller and smaller amounts of naturally-occurring glucosamine in our systems, which in turn helps increase our chances of developing osteoarthritis or other joint-related health conditions.
Speaking of osteoarthritis, did you know that somewhere around 21 million Americans suffer from this often painful health issue? If you routinely wake up with a stiff and sore back and/or aching knees, hips, or hands, you may very well have osteoarthritis. Traditionally, people with arthritis have relied on over-the-counter pain medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or if the pain is quite severe, possibly a prescription drug.
Although these drugs can be very effective in reducing the pain associated with osteoarthritis, they don’t do anything to actually improve the situation. In other words, you can take all the Advil your doctor advises you for your arthritis, but your cartilage will still be in bad shape.
This is where glucosamine sulfate comes in. It has been widely studied for its ability to actually rebuild cartilage. In doing so, it has been found to be more effective than NSAIDs in relieving pain, although it doesn’t work in the same way as Advil or Motrin will. When you take an Advil for pain, it gets busy relieving the pain and inflammation in your body. But glucosamine sulfate typically takes longer to build up in the body, maybe as long as three to five weeks. Some people take glucosamine sulfate in an effort to help their arthritis and then get frustrated when they don’t feel immediate relief. But as is the case with many natural remedies, it pays to be patient. If the pain continues to be severe as the glucosamine sulfate gets into your system, with your doctor’s blessing it might make sense to continue your traditional pain medication too, at least for the first couple of weeks or so.
Balch and Balch, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Third Edition, 2000
Murray, Michael, Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements, 1996