Glucosamine is the most popular supplement for joint support and it’s also well established to be an effective treatment for joint-related conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. There is an ongoing debate, however, about which form of glucosamine works better and is more efficient – sulphate or hydrochloride.
It should be stressed that the active ingredient in any glucosamine product is only the glucosamine element, and that the hydrochloride or sulphate acid salt is purely a delivery vehicle. Therefore, the amount of glucosamine present in 1500 mg of glucosamine salt will depend on the amount of ‘vehicle’ present and whether additional salts are included in the supplement. In short, the benefits delivered by a product will depend on its purity and stability, and this is where the two salts differ.
The simple answer is that they both fare equally in their actions; the majority of early trials and studies have primarily used glucosamine in its sulphate form, rather than hydrochloride, purely because of availability at the time. Not surprisingly, much of the data has rested on the actions of glucosamine sulphate. Only more recently has glucosamine hydrochloride been able to stand its ground and the results from several well conducted trials demonstrate that hydrochloride is as efficient as the sulphate form (Houpt et al, 1999; Qiu et al, 2005; Zang et al, 2007)
The hydrochloride form of glucosamine is more concentrated than sulphate and contains substantially less sodium per effective dose. Glucosamine sulphate is stabilised with sodium chloride – more commonly known as table salt – and can contain as much as 30% sodium. Given that we are advised to reduce our salt intake, this is a consideration for individuals who want or need to reduce their dietary intake of sodium.
The content of other salts will also affect the dosage needed to achieve the relevant amount of glucosamine. For example, given that the upper limit of glucosamine is set at 1.5 g per day, you would need to consume around 2g of glucosamine sulphate to equal the benefits of 1.5g of glucosamine hydrochloride.This is because glucosamine hydrochloride is naturally stable and requires no added salt or other preservatives. Simply put, glucosamine hydrochloride provides the same benefits as that of glucosamine sulphate but because of stability and purity it is actually more efficient and better value in the sense that it delivers the actual amount of glucosamine as stated on the product label.
Additional nutrients that support joint health
Glucosamine has certainly been in the limelight when it comes to joint health, and we now know why glucosamine hydrochloride may be the preferred form; however, we must not forget the other ingredients for a beneficial joint supplement regime. For healthy sprung lubricated joints, there is much more than taking a glucosamine supplement alone, so read on to be aware of the most important vitamins and minerals which target joint integrity.
It may be inevitable that our joints are going to wear out to a certain extent as we age, leading to inflammation and pain in some individuals in the form of arthritis, but fortunately specific nutrition can provide joint relief by protecting cartilage (which covers the bone surfaces), reducing inflammation and replenishing surrounding joint tissues.
Whether you simply want to protect your joints against possible future damage due to high activity levels or a genetic risk, or if you already have arthritis or some form of joint damage, optimizing your nutritional status specific to joint health may be beneficial for you. The following nutritional advice is everything you need to regulate inflammation, and to ensure adequate nutrient supply to support healthy synovial fluid, cartilage, collagen, bone density and other joint tissues.
As arthritis is an inflammatory condition and as inflammation is also involved in joint damage, the key in reducing symptoms of joint discomfort is to first reduce this inflammatory response. Keeping inflammation under control will enable joint damage to be kept to a minimum, and will allow the body’s natural healing process to function properly.
Omega-3 EPA is the active ingredient found in fish oil which supports anti-inflammatory processes in the body. Eating oily fish is, therefore, one of the top nutritional tips for reducing inflammation in your joints. Not only is fish consumption much lower than the recommended levels, the dose of omega-3 EPA acquired from eating fish may not be optimal, as toxin levels in fish (e.g. methyl mercury, PCBs and dioxins) means we are unable to safely eat large enough quantities. To ramp up your anti-inflammatory EPA levels, high dose EPA can be taken from concentrated fatty acid supplements. Standard fish oil contains only 18% of the active ingredient EPA, whereas fish oil supplements can concentrate the EPA to up to 90%, allowing a high dose of EPA to have a powerful beneficial effect on pain and inflammation in joints.
EPA is able to reduce inflammation by converting into hormone-like substances called prostaglandins which hinder inflammatory effects. The opposite effect is produced when consuming omega-6 arachidonic acid (AA) (mostly found in grain fed meats), therefore some omega-6 fats can actually increase inflammation in the body. EPA from fish displaces AA in the cell membranes, therefore supplementing with EPA can also help to reduce your inflammatory fatty acids, explaining why the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 EPA are so powerful. Interestingly, there is one type of omega-6 fatty acid called GLA (gamma linolenic acid) which, alongside EPA, actually enhances the anti-inflammatory effects. Omega-6 GLA is found in evening primrose oil, therefore a supplement combining concentrated omega-3 EPA from fish oil and omega-6 GLA from evening primrose oil is the most effective way of controlling the body’s inflammatory response.
Glucosamine – how it works
Back to the important topic of glucosamine: this should always be included in a joint supplement, especially for anyone doing regular impact training, or for anyone with arthritis.
Glucosamine is a natural substance made in the body and makes up compounds called proteoglycans and glycosaminoglycans. Cartilage is made up of these compounds, therefore they are required to cover and protect bones in the joints, providing lubrication and shock absorption. Glucosamine also prevents deterioration of joints and supports other joint structures including tendons, ligaments, and discs.
Glucosamine intake, therefore, may offer protection as we age, as glucosamine production is reduced with age, and needs are also increased during high levels of activity. Supplementing with glucosamine has been shown in review studies to reduce pain, improve mobility and preserve joint integrity.
Combining glucosamine with omega-3 EPA allows the glucosamine to provide these beneficial results, whilst also offering an anti-inflammatory state in the joint to further speed up the positive effects of pain reduction and prevention of further damage.
If you want to take your joint health to the next level by optimizing vitamins and mineral levels required for bone health, calcium, magnesium and vitamin D are at the top of this health list.
Calcium is well known for its role in bone structure, and low levels of calcium can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis. Calcium does not, however, act on its own to support bone density; calcium works simultaneously with magnesium and vitamin D to achieve optimum bone health. Vitamin D supports the absorption of calcium, and magnesium works synergistically with calcium to provide the joint structure. With a deficiency of any of these vitamins or minerals, joint health may be compromised and arthritis may consequently progress faster.
Vitamin C and zinc
Powerful antioxidants, vitamin C and zinc help to protect joints from damage by ‘mopping up’ free radicals. Free radicals are produced in the body as a result of pollution and other stressors such as refined foods containing pesticides. Low levels of free radicals are fine for our health, although high levels, frequently a result of our modern lifestyles, can cause excessive damage to joint tissues over time. Vitamin C is also used in the production of collagen, which provides a structure of connective tissues to hold joints in position. Zinc is also required for growth and repair of tissues surrounding the joints and also supports the function of enzymes required to build bone matrix.
Houpt JB, McMillan R, Wein C, Paget-Dellio SD. Effect of glucosamine hydrochloride in the treatment of pain of osteoarthritis of the knee. J Rheumatol. 1999 26:2423-30.
Qiu GX, Weng XS, Zhang K, Zhou YX, Lou SQ, Wang YP, Li W, Zhang H, Liu Y. A multi-central, randomized, controlled clinical trial of glucosamine hydrochloride/sulfate in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis Zhonghua Yi Xue Za Zhi. 2005 85:3067-70. Chinese.
Zhang WB, Zhuang CY, Li JM, Yang ZP, Chen XL. Efficacy and safety evaluation of glucosamine hydrochloride in the treatment of osteoarthritis Zhonghua Wai Ke Za Zhi. 2007 45:998-1001.