Glucosamine is an over-the-counter supplement that has been shown to help reduce the pain and inflammation that is often associated with several heath conditions and disorders. Many patients want to know, “Is glucosamine safe?” In fact, it is one of the safest pain relieving products available on the market today.
How Glucosamine Works
Glucosamine (namely Glucosamine Sulfate) is a chemical that is found naturally in a variety of living things, including the human body. The body uses glucosamine to produce other chemicals that it can use to create tissues like tendons, cartilage, and ligaments. The body also uses glucosamine to create synovial fluid, which is the fluid surrounding the joints. Glucosamine is thought to prevent damage that may occur to the joints, and in some cases, research suggests that it may even reverse that damage. Glucosamine supplements generally come from shellfish, though the chemical compound can also be synthesized in a laboratory.
Safety vs. Efficacy
There have been numerous studies on glucosamine comparing it to everything from NSAIDs to placebos and even to acetaminophen. The results show that glucosamine is often just as effective or even more effective than these medications, but it both cases, it is typically safer. Whereas NSAIDs have been shown to cause stomach ulcers and acetaminophen is notoriously hard on the liver, glucosamine has proven to be just as safe as a placebo, which is often nothing more than starch, sugar, or even saline. In fact, more side effects were reported by patients taking a placebo than those taking glucosamine.
Average Dose and Toxicity
Studies have looked at several different glucosamine doses and concluded that doses falling within the 1000mg to 2000mg range are typically safe, even when used for long periods of time of up to two years or more. However, is glucosamine safe in large doses? The Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Kentucky determined that the median lethal doses of glucosamine – the dose at which 50% of subjects would die – is 8000mg per kilogram. The team also confirmed that there were fewer side effects associated with glucosamine than with NSAIDs or even placebos.
Concerns for Preexisting Health Conditions
Although glucosamine is widely considered safe by top researchers and organizations, there are a few concerns about its safety in patients who have certain health conditions. For example, there has not been enough research to determine whether glucosamine is safe for women who are pregnant or for breastfeeding infants, so physicians typically warn against it. There are also concerns for people who have asthma and those who have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, though the studies on the links between glucosamine and these conditions are very limited. People who have allergies to shellfish should not take glucosamine.
Is glucosamine safe? Studies would indicate that it is perfectly safe in people who are otherwise healthy at doses of 1000mg to 2000mg per day, even for a long period of time. However, people who have allergies to shellfish should not use it at all, and those who have certain health conditions should use it with extreme caution.