How does Glucosamine Work, and What are its Effects?

As we age, the cartilage in our joints may start to show some wear, and it takes more essential vitamins and minerals to keep them working properly. Age-related and other health conditions can affect our joint health, making it uncomfortable or even painful to exercise or use the full range of motion for the affected joints. Thankfully, herbalists have been using multiple natural remedies for centuries to improve cartilage strength and longevity. One popular diet supplement that can decrease inflammation and help keep your joints working pain-free is called glucosamine. It is found in the fluid and cartilage between your joints and is an essential compound. You can find it in natural ingredients, but the concentrated amount found in lab-produced supplement products can enhance the positive effects.

What is Glucosamine?

The natural chemical plays an important role in keeping the cartilage between your joints flexible and durable. It also contributes to the creation of tendons and ligaments. You can find glucosamine in several common animals and plants, including shellfish and other seafood. Most glucosamine supplements are supplied from lab-based shells or shellfish to ensure optimum quality. There are three main types of glucosamine, and they are not interchangeable, so you will want to double-check any products before purchase to ensure you are ordering the correct type.

  • Glucosamine sulfate is often used as a form of mild pain relief, and it is one of the most commonly used in supplements. There is research to indicate that glucosamine sulfate has a number of other health benefits.
  • Glucosamine hydrochloride is a similar form and can provide many of the same benefits, including inflammation relief. However, it has been known to raise blood pressure and insulin levels in some individuals, so check with your doctor before using glucosamine if you take medications for blood pressure.
  • N-acetyl glucosamine has not been researched as thoroughly as the other two forms, but it is believed to help with relieving stiffness and discomfort associated with inflammation of joints or the intestines. It can also help decrease some physical signs of skin aging.

Ways Science has Shown Glucosamine Can Help

The United States National Library of Medicine reported that glucosamine supplements are known to treat aspects of the following conditions. For the majority of the research, glucosamine sulfate was the form used to treat symptoms.

  • Joint pain and inflammation
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS)
  • Kashin-Beck disease
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Improves rate of recovery after major surgery
  • Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • Skin aging
  • Back, neck, hip, or knee pain
  • Temporomandibular disorders (TMD)

How Does Glucosamine Work?

The current research into the effectiveness of glucosamine supplements has concluded that it works by inhibiting the breakdown of cartilage and increasing the amount of joint fluid. Inflammation and joint pain is often caused by a thinning of the joint fluid or breakdown of the cartilage due to illness, injury, or age-related disorders. Taking glucosamine sulfate or glucosamine hydrochloride supplement has been known to treat stiffness, pain, and friction within affected joints.

Glucosamine Dosage Recommendation

You should always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer of your supplement. Glucosamine is one of many natural reduces that is not strictly monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means not all products will include the exact same ingredients or levels of glucosamine.

The recommended dose for the most common form, glucosamine sulfate, is listed below as provided by the United States National Library of Medicine. There is no indication that you should take pills or tablets with water or at a specific time of day.

Glucosamine Sulfate Dose: should not exceed the maximum dose as instructed by either your doctor or the supplement packaging. You can take 1500 mg once each day or 500 mg three times a day,

There is not enough research to give conclusive dose recommendations for the other two forms of the chemical compound.

Benefits of Anti-inflammatory Properties

Inflammation is a risk factor and symptom for a wide range of different health conditions. When left untreated, it can interfere with regular exercise or even completing everyday tasks. You can use the anti-inflammatory properties of glucosamine to counteract inflammation. Various research studies indicate the following benefits.


Daily doses of glucosamine sulfate have been shown to decrease pain and inflammation in women with osteoarthritis. One 2016 study revealed that "glucosamine sulfate decreased the risk of developing radiographic knee [osteoarthritis]" for several years in some clinical trial participants.

Rheumatoid Arthritis:

Glucosamine sulfate can improve range of motion, decrease pain, and lower inflammation for joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) looked at effective treatments for chronic knee pain, and it was determined that knee function improved after taking glucosamine sulfate. More research still needs to be completed on the subject because there are still some mixed results. Although there are many options available to help ease arthritis symptoms.

The Importance of Diet

The majority of research studies looking at the health benefits of glucosamine found that diet played a substantial role in the effectiveness of the supplement. Diets rich in natural, healthy fats were better for controlling insulin levels and facilitated weight loss. Individuals who are well-rounded diets were more likely to benefit from the pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties of the two most common forms of glucosamine. 

Hydration is another vital part of joint health. Within its proper hydration, your body is unable to build strong and healthy cartilage and ligaments. Adults should drink a minimum of 3 liters of water each day.

To get the best result, you will want to talk with your doctor or a nutritionist about possible dietary changes that might help increase the potential positive effects of the supplement. They can also help you determine if physical therapy or other exercises would also be beneficial.


Below are some FAQs regarding the different forms of glucosamine.

What foods include glucosamine?

The compound is prevalent in the following.

  • Animal bones and bone marrow
  • Some species of fungi
  • Shellfish and fish

Are there any risk factors associated with taking glucosamine?

There is little evidence of risks associated with taking glucosamine as long as you remain within the recommended dose. It is also important to speak with your doctor before starting any new supplement. Because glucosamine is often derived from shellfish, you will want to speak to a medical professional before taking any if you have fish or shellfish allergies. 

Some people do experience very mild symptoms if they do not follow the product instructions. They include the following. 

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Tiredness
  • Constipation
  • Skin conditions

While side effects of taking glucosamine are rare, they are more prevalent in individuals who are overweight, diabetic or have high blood pressure.

Can N-acetyl glucosamine make my skin look younger?

Research seems to point to several ways that N-acetyl glucosamine can reverse or slow the signs of aging on the skin. It is believed that this is due to the natural anti-inflammatory properties that all forms of glucosamine possess. When taking this supplement to treat skin conditions, you may notice the following positive changes.

  • Lightening of the skin in areas of age-related discoloration
  • Repairs damage caused by UV light
  • Reduces the appearance of wrinkles and some scar tissue
  • Strengthens and thickens the skin's defenses

The overall appearance of your skin may look younger and healthier after using glucosamine products for a period of time. It can also complement other anti-aging products.

Are there any medications you should avoid taking with glucosamine?

The United States National Library of Medicine recommends avoiding taking the following medications if you are on a glucosamine supplement because it could lead to an adverse interaction.

  • Warfarin (Coumadin) and other blood thinners
  • Topoisomerase II Inhibitors and some other cancer medications
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol, etc.) may not be as effective while you are taking glucosamine though further research is required to determine the exact nature of any reactions.
  • Prescription medication used to treat diabetes such as glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, rosiglitazone (Avandia), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), pioglitazone (Actos), tolbutamide (Orinase), and others.

Can you take glucosamine supplements on an empty stomach?

There is little indication that when and how you take glucosamine sulfate has any impact on side effects or how well it works. You can take it on an empty stomach or after eating.

Does taking glucosamine cause weight gain?

Some early animal trials using mice showed a strange phenomenon surrounding weight gain. The researchers discovered mild but noticeable weight gain and an increase in insulin levels for mice fed a regular diet. However, mice that were on a high-fat diet experienced weight loss, and their insulin levels became more balanced. The cause is still unknown, but it is believed that glucosamine sulfate may regulate glucose and lipids. You can work with a nutritionist to find the right diet to keep you from losing weight while taking glucosamine.

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