Glucosamine in joint therapy – human and equine
As surprising as it is, conventional medicine does not yet have a proven treatment for either the symptoms or the condition of Osteoarthritis. In large part because of this, Glucosamine therapy has become the ‘go to’ treatment plan for many sufferers. Despite not being approved by the US Food and Drug administration for medicinal use, it is one of the most common non-vitamin, non-mineral, dietary supplements used by adults in the US. In Europe, however, it is approved as a medical drug and regularly recommended by physicians. Patients frequently find it works best in conjunction with other natural and non-surgical treatment options such as antioxidants and hyaluronic acid.
Most common in the middle-age and older, Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition which occurs when the cartilage at the end of the joints wears down causing the bones to rub together. This then leads to loss of motion, stiffness and pain in the joints. Glucosamine is believed to help with both the formation and repair of cartilage with some tests showing that it may even help to build up levels of cartilage. Found naturally in the connective tissues of the human body as well as some fungi, the Glucosamine stocked at the local health food store is often extracted from crab, lobster and shrimp shells. Glucosamine produced from non-animal sources has recently been made available to the public.
Glucosamine can be so effective that some suffers find they can eliminate other pain medication completely, while others use Glucosamine in conjunction with their current pain control regime. PubMed quotes four studies on the effectiveness of oral glucosamine with ibuprofen for pain relief. “The results of these studies showed glucosamine to be of similar efficacy to ibuprofen. The conclusion is that glucosamine is effective in relieving joint pain associated with osteoarthritis. Glucosamine’s pain-relieving effects may be due to its cartilage-rebuilding properties; these disease-modifying effects are not seen with simple analgesics and are of particular benefit. In practice glucosamine can be used as an alternative to anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics or as a useful adjunct to standard analgesic therapy.”1
There have been numerous clinical trials of Glucosamine as a medical therapy. In the 1980s and 90s various trials showed considerable joint improvement on radiographs. However the US National Institute of Health funded a large, multicenter clinical trial (the GAIT trial) which showed that, for a certain subgroup of patients, the efficacy of Glucosamine and related compounds was significantly more effective than a placebo for patients with moderate to severe osteoarthritic conditions. Another 6-month double-blind, multicenter trial (the GUIDE study) published in 2007, determined that “Glucosamine was more effective than placebo” in treating osteoarthritis. Perhaps the definitive word is this; both the OsteoArthritis Research Society International and the European League Against Rheumatism recommend Glucosamine as an effective treatment for osteoarthritis.
Glucosamine comes in sulfate, hydrochloride and N-acetyl-glucosamine forms. Initial treatment levels are generally around 1500mg per day for one to two months. At which point, it’s recommended that you consult with your medical practitioner to decide if the treatment is working for you. In general both clinical studies and anecdotal research have concluded that there are no apparent side effects to Glucosamine.
Given Glucosamine’ s long-standing popularity for use with human joints, it’s not surprising that other animals’ joint and cartilage concerns are also incorporating the supplement into their therapies. Specifically, Glucosamine has been used in horse veterinary medicine for more than 25 years; helping to ease the pain of Equine Osteoarthritis as well as aid in the recovery of joint injuries for thousands of horses all over the world. Just as with humans, horses’ joints get more fragile with age and some could argue that they are at a more significant risk of joint injury than their human counterparts.
For horses Glucosamine may be used in conjunction with MSM, antioxidants and hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid acts as a lubricant and the Antioxidants and MSM act as powerful anti-inflammatoies. When they all work together, horses suffer less pain and experience less injury. Older horses are generally put on this treatment plan for the rest of their lives as studies have shown that symptoms may reoccur in 3-4 months after stopping the program. Younger injured horses may take it for 3-6 months depending upon the severity of the injury. As with humans, side-effects are almost unheard of for horses.
1. Glucosamine therapy compared to ibuprofen for joint pain. Ruane R, Griffiths P. Primary Care and Community Pharmacy, King’s College London.