Q: I have been taking glucosamine with chondroitin for my arthritis for years. What’s the go on this? Should I stop?
Recently, the Australian Rheumatology Association (ARA) released a statement advising people not to take glucosamine supplements for arthritis, based on the fact that over the past 11 years, 336 cases of side effects were reported to the Australian medical watchdog, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
It’s been reported that 263 of these cases were allergic reactions, which were rated from mild to severe. To put this in perspective, of the many thousands of people who take glucosamine in Australia on a regular basis, only 30 people per year experienced side effects, of which only 16 per cent were considered severe.
Any reaction to an ingested substance should be considered important, but again it’s important to realise that there’s a 10 per cent side effect rate to all pharmaceutical medications — much more dramatic than seen with the variety of supplements available across the counter without a prescription.
Glucosamine is typically sourced from the shells of prawns or other crustaceans, but there are also some vegan sources available which should cause fewer allergic reactions. Glucosamine can also be a weak blood thinner, so you should be careful if you’re taking very strong pharmaceutical blood thinners. It’s also been associated with liver disease and heartburn. If you have an allergy to seafood, then glucosamine may exacerbate asthma.
My perspective here is that if you’re taking glucosamine and have done so for many years with what you perceive to be a good effect, I wouldn’t stop. There are many people in conservative medicine who don’t believe supplements are of any value, but I don’t share this view.
Just like pharmaceutical drugs, supplements don’t work for everyone, but if you perceive to be experiencing a benefit from something that in most cases is harmless, I would continue to take that therapy. In my opinion, the best glucosamine supplement also contains chondroitin and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM).
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