Hugh Duckworth MD

Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) in 1984 from University of Tennessee School of Medicine

Oct 27, 2018 4 min read

RA Treatment: Do Glucosamine and Chondroitin Really Work?

If you’re living with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), you are no stranger to the pain associated with this condition. Stiffness, swelling, and tenderness in the joints. Back and muscle pain. Whole body fatigue, anemia, skin blemishes/redness, dry mouth, “pins and needles” sensations. Rheumatoid arthritis affects the whole body. And those that suffer from this chronic condition are seeking relief using a variety of compounds to limit or prevent inflammation.


<h3>Pain Relief via Supplements</h3>

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate are compounds that work together to treat inflammation due to arthritis – as found in RA and osteoarthritis. Glucosamine is key to cartilage formation and maintenance and is manufactured from shellfish. Chondroitin is also a key component to cartilage maintenance – as its main function is to attract water to the cartilage to provide better shock absorption during physical activity.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate have been found to have considerable success in the treatment of osteoarthritis in both humans and animals. Results from the American College of Rheumatology’s medical studies indicate that both supplements have been found to reduce joint inflammation and swelling, with most evidence being present in the knee.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate effectiveness studies for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers have been fewer and farther between. In fact, only a handful of studies have been conducted on Glucosamine in relation to rheumatoid arthritis. While very few documented studies related to Chondroitin Sulfate and its effectiveness in treating RA have been conducted.


<h3>What Does the Research Say?</h3>

For RA sufferers, Glucosamine has been found to have positive effects on pain treatment. When compared to NSAIDs for pain relief, Glucosamine has shown evidence to produce the same caliber of pain reduction in RA patients as NSAIDs. Specifically, Glucosamine presents general pain relief to sufferers of RA in addition to pain relief from pressure when it is applied to the joints.

Studies on animals have shown that Chondroitin Sulfate inhibits inflammatory enzymes from entering the synovial fluid, which is key to minimizing the destruction of cartilage in autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis. However,  as yet, there are no documented clinical studies of this effect of Chondroitin Sulfate in humans.

The troubling results with most of the research on RA and Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate supplements is that there just isn’t much out there, as compared to its effects on osteoarthritis. In fact, some state that Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate should not be taken if you are suffering from RA.


<h3>The Case Against These Supplements?</h3>

Both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are arthritic conditions, so the effects of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate in treating these conditions should be similar, right? Well, maybe. . .but maybe not.

The distinction lies in the actual differences between the two disorders. Osteoarthritis is characterized by joint degradation. That is, the cartilage between the joints diminishes and/or becomes damaged, causing less shock absorption during physical activity. Hence, causing pain. Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, where the body is essentially attacking itself, though, much of the pain is felt in the joints. It’s not that the cartilage is diminishing, rather the body thinks that it’s suffering from some foreign invasion and is attacking itself.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate are used to build up cartilage between the joints. Why could this be problematic for RA sufferers? If the body is already attacking the cartilage between the joints, building that cartilage up might be the cause of even more inflammation, flare-ups, and pain.


<h3>So What’s the Verdict?</h3>

Unfortunately, the best answer is that only time will tell with more clinical studies – especially in relation to RA. In general, when taking Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate supplements, if no improvement is seen in two months, you’ll likely not see any improvement over time. Most physicians advise patients to stop taking the supplements altogether after six months if no indication of improvement presents itself.

Common side effects of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate supplements are mild – in a small subset of patients, users experienced mild stomach upset – nausea and diarrhea. Common daily dosage for Glucosamine is 1500mg and 1000mg for Chondroitin Sulfate.