In 2020, two separate large-scale population-based epidemiological studies came to an interesting conclusion: people who reported taking glucosamine supplements had positive health benefits beyond relief from osteoarthritis and joint pain that were not attributed to those who didn’t report using glucosamine.
One of the two studies, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, reported that regular glucosamine intake was associated with reduced risk of death from heart disease (18 percent), from cancer (6 percent), and from respiratory and digestive diseases (25 percent). Here’s what you need to know.
What is glucosamine?
Glucosamine, along with chondroitin, is a naturally occurring structural component of cartilage, the protective tissue around joints. A natural source of glucosamine used in the formulation of dietary supplements can be found in the exoskeletons of crustaceans (such as shrimp shells) as well as insects, although the latter aren’t used in making supplements.
How could a molecule well known as a joint protector have such significant potential health effects as heart protection and cancer prevention? Although further research will be needed to reveal the full scope of glucosamine’s benefits, existing studies point the way to a few of the mechanisms that might underlie the glucosamine effect.
Glucosamine as anti-inflammatory
Human, animal, and laboratory studies point to glucosamine’s potential to quell inflammation. Research suggests it may have the ability to flip the switch on the all-important nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB), the body’s main inflammation-control mechanism.
Since inflammation fuels the fire of many chronic diseases, anti-inflammatory effects provide a potential mechanism for the outcomes recorded in the recent studies associating glucosamine supplementation with lower overall death rates.
Interestingly, study authors note the cardiovascular-protective trend hints to be even stronger in smokers who take glucosamine. This may be due to the anti-inflammatory action providing a measure of protection against this pro-inflammatory habit.
Glucosamine as low-carb diet mimicker
Researchers have found that glucosamine stimulates metabolic changes resembling those seen in low-carbohydrate or calorie-restricted diets, including similar age-delaying effects. These changes include inducing production of mitochondria, our cellular batteries. Maintaining healthy mitochondria throughout life is critical for healthy aging.
Glucosamine as internal housekeeper
Autophagy is a type of cellular housekeeping in which worn or dysfunctional cellular components are scavenged and recycled. This process tends to get less efficient with age, further contributing to the aging process.
Activating autophagy has been shown to prolong lifespan and reduce disease severity in a number of experimental models. Fasting stokes this cellular cleansing process, which is partly why it has become so popular. A select few nutrients can also stimulate and support autophagy, glucosamine being one of them.
Glucosamine at your natural health store
Look for glucosamine sulphate, which is generally safe, although not suitable for people with shellfish allergies. Further studies are needed to determine whether synthetic glucosamine, which is shellfish free, is as beneficial for life extension. An optimal dose for mortality risk benefits has not been established; however, glucosamine users typically take 1,500 mg per day for joint health.
What about chondroitin?
While glucosamine supplements usually contain the closely related nutrient chondroitin, one recent longevity analysis examined the outcomes of participants who supplemented with glucosamine without chondroitin and found no decrease in the longevity benefits associated with regular glucosamine/chondroitin supplementation.