Glucosamine and chondroitin are popular natural treatments for joint pain. They are frequently sold together as a single joint health supplement; however, they are two different substances. Both have an effect on the cartilage in the body’s joints, but in different ways. While you can take the two supplements separately, there is a growing amount of research that suggests they may be best when used together.
Glucosamine is found naturally in the body, particularly in the cartilage: it is one of the building blocks of cartilage and is also found in the fluid that lubricates the body’s joints. Glucosamine’s job in the body is to generate cartilage production and repair. It can also be manufactured and sold in supplement form — this type of glucosamine often comes from animal cartilage. There are several varieties of over the counter glucosamine, including glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride and n-acyl glucosamine. Many people take glucosamine for joint health, often in combination with the related supplement chondroitin.
Chondroitin is a similar substance that is also found naturally in the body’s joints. Like glucosamine, it plays a role in maintaining joint health. Chondroitin is important for cartilage production, which keeps the surfaces of the joints moving smoothly as they rub together. It also helps the cartilage absorb fluid, which is vital for cartilage health and may prevent some destructive enzymes from breaking cartilage down. Chondroitin is generally available as chondroitin sulfate. Over-the-counter chondroitin also comes from animal sources. Chondroitin is often combined with glucosamine, though it can be purchased on its own in supplement form.
Uses for Each
Both glucosamine and chondroitin play important roles in joint health. Combined, they are some of the more common supplements taken by people with arthritis. However, separately they are also being researched for their roles in controlling the symptoms of other chronic diseases. For instance, chondroitin may help with the treatment of bladder infections. Glucosamine may also reduce some of the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Research for these other uses of glucosamine and chondroitin are preliminary but do show potential.
Both glucosamine and chondroitin impact the body’s cartilage and joint fluids, though their effects vary slightly. This may explain why they are often marketed together as a single supplement. Research reviewed by the University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that glucosamine and chondroitin work best for arthritis treatment when used as a team.