- Glucosamine and chondroitin are popular supplement choices for joint pain relief and joint health, although data to support this relationship is conflicting.
- Taking these supplements has been linked to improved mortality in multiple studies.
- Including these supplements in an overall healthy diet may help you experience positive outcomes.
Taking glucosamine and chondroitin supplements for one year or longer is associated with lower all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality, according to a new study.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are components of the tissue that cushions the joints—also known as our cartilage. Both are produced naturally in the body but are also available as dietary supplements. The results of this study imply “that a dietary supplement can be beneficial to reduce heart disease,” Barry Silverman, MD, an Atlanta-based cardiologist unaffiliated with the research, tells Verywell.
The cohort study relied on data from the National Health and Nutrition Education Survey (NHANES) Cohort, which contained over 16,000 participants.
According to this data, those who took glucosamine and chondroitin supplements were less likely to have cardiovascular disease mortality than those who did not take the supplements. After controlling for age, taking the supplements were associated with a 39% reduction in all-cause mortality and 65% in cardiovascular disease mortality.
These findings were published in the November issue of The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.
What This Means For You
As long as a healthcare provider approves, taking glucosamine and chondroitin supplements along with a healthy diet and lifestyle may help you experience positive health outcomes, like less joint pain or lower cardiovascular disease mortality.
Limitations of the Data
While recent studies have found that taking glucosamine and chondroitin appear to have a positive effect on mortality, Silverman shares some caveats about this latest research.
While the data was based on a large sample size, “the report is just a statistical association from the U.S. NHANES Cohort and the supplement group was mostly White, educated, non-smokers, who had a higher level of exercise all associated with lower cardiovascular risk,” Silverman says. “Although these factors were adjusted for in the report, this group could well have other risks that were not considered. However, the report brings up important points that indicate further study is warranted.”
Silverman cautions that the use of glucosamine and chondroitin supplements for mortality benefit “requires considerable investigation in the laboratory and clinical medicine before it is proven.”
And Brittany Scanniello, RD, a Colorado-based registered dietitian, tells Verywell that many people who live healthier lifestyles take more “wellness” supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin. Therefore, one has to question if it was in fact the supplements that caused the positive benefit, or if it was the overall healthy lifestyle that resulted in the group having these outcomes.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin’s Effect on Joint Health
Many people take glucosamine and chondroitin as dietary supplements to treat osteoarthritis and joint pain. The thought is that taking them can support joint structure, although actual data is conflicting. In one study, those with osteoarthritis who took supplemental glucosamine and chondroitin reported worse pain than those who took a placebo.
Not only do glucosamine and chondroitin play a role in the structure of joints, but they also have anti-inflammatory properties. And since inflammation is common in those who experience osteoarthritis, the anti-inflammatory benefit is certainly welcomed.
“Systemic inflammation is bad for your health in general,” Lawrence Wade Manaker, MD, a South Carolina-based emergency medicine doctor, tells Verywell. “Glucosamine/chondroitin is not only good for your joints by decreasing inflammation locally, but likely by decreasing cytokine over-activity.” He shares that this effect can offer an overall health benefit.
But whether these supplements actually play a positive role in pain relief remains to be proven. Some data confirm that these supplements help manage joint pain, and other studies suggest the opposite.
Should You Take Glucosamine and Chondroitin Regularly?
Taking glucosamine and chondroitin are very popular supplements to take, especially with a diagnosis of osteoarthritis. Although adding these supplements to your routine appears to come with little risk, it is not completely risk-free.
Taking glucosamine has been linked to increased glaucoma risk, and chondroitin may act as a blood thinner. And like all dietary supplements sold in the U.S., these pills are not regulated and quality may be questionable depending on the brand you choose.
In one study, those who took glucosamine and chondroitin reported more abdominal pain and diarrhea when compared with those who took a placebo pill. Additionally, since these supplements are not covered by insurance providers, including them into your daily regimen will be an additional expense that can add up.
As long as your personal doctor deems these supplements as safe, it may help support your mortality according to this data. But people should not simply turn to these supplements without practicing a healthy lifestyle.
“It has been clearly demonstrated that diet is a major factor in cardiovascular disease, a factor that can contribute to progression or regression of the disease,” Silverman explains. “At the November 2020 American Heart Association meeting, there were a number of papers on the association of diet, the microbiome, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients on the vascular cell surface. These effects are not just on lipid-lowering, or blood pressure but at the molecular level affecting the inflammatory process that is critical in causing vascular dysfunction and clotting.”
In other words, glucosamine and chondroitin supplements are not magic pills that can replace your workout or healthy diet. Eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods, exercising, getting quality sleep, and practicing other positive diet and lifestyle choices can all help you live a healthier life—regardless of whether you are taking a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement or not.