Supplements for Joints

July 8, 2008

Athletes face different nutritional requirements than the general population because of sustained and repeated strenuous exercise. Athletes in sports involving bodybuilding, throwing, jumping and running put extra impact and stress on their joints. Hence they often seek medication or supplements that can ease pain and inflammation in the ankles, knees, elbows and wrists. These athletes are also at risk of developing osteoarthritis, a painful disorder of the joints characterized by the wearing away of cartilage, which ordinarily acts as a buffer between the bones of joints to minimize damage from friction and mechanical impact. Eventually, osteoarthritis is characterized by inflammation and loss of mobility. Two of the most common supplements used by athletes to combat the loss of cartilage are glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, which are often taken in combination.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Glucosamine and chondroitin are both natural components of proteoglycans, the building blocks of cartilage, and have essential roles in joint development and repair.  Glucosamine is manufactured from oyster and crab shells, and chondroitin from bovine or shark cartilage. Extensive studies have been carried out on the effectiveness of these supplements in combating pain, inflammation and cartilage loss. In vitro results show that glucosamine and chondroitin stimulate cartilage production.

Clinical studies show that both of these sports supplements allow athletes with cartilage damage to heal and to return to training sooner.  Clinical studies also show that on the whole, long term treatment with either compound relieves pain and some of the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis.  Studies also show that these supplements slow the progression of osteoarthritis. The effects of supplement therapy are not immediate, but are consistent with the slow regeneration of cartilage.

Both Glucosamine and Chondroitin have been used for many years as an over the counter supplement. The supplement has proven to be completely safe.  The product is natural and non-toxic, and is an essential sports supplement in any athlete’s arsenal.

SAM-e

A third supplement commonly used by athletes to combat joint pain is S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e). Although SAM-e has many roles in the body, it is of interest to athletes because it also promotes the production of proteoglycans and therefore cartilage. However, research on SAM-e does not conclusively show that the compound is effective in reversing osteoarthritis.

References:

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Herrero-Beaumont G et al. The reverse glucosamine sulfate pathway: application in knee osteoarthritis.  Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2007. 8(2):215-25.

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McAlindon TE, LaValley MP, Gulin JP, Felson DT. Glucosamine and chondroitin for treatment of osteoarthritis: a systematic quality assessment and meta-analysis. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2000; 83:1469-1475.

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