Glucosamine is what is known as an amino sugar. It is found in many living things, and acts predominantly as a precursor to the chemical reaction that creates protein and lipids. Glucosamine is also a key part of the exoskeletons of some creatures (crustaceans mainly) and is one of the more plentiful monosaccharides on the planet.
The most prominent medical use for glucosamine is in the treatment of osteoarthritis, the theory being that since glucosamine plays a major role in the synthesis of glycosaminoglycans, and said products are essential for making cartilage in healthy joints, that extra glucosamine in the system should stimulate the production of fresh cartilage and therefore ease the symptoms of arthritis. Many patients have experienced success with this treatment, and it is accepted practice, though often categorized as alternative therapy, as some doctors prefer proven drug therapies. Glucosamine is often reported to reduce the pain of arthritis sufferers, which may be in part due to its inherent anti-inflammatory properties.
Of particular relevancy are studies which show glucosamine to have a stronger effect when used to treat cases of knee osteoarthritis as opposed to other kinds of osteoarthritis, and the evidence that glucosamine is effective in these cases is more concrete than for some of its other uses.
Glucosamine sulphate is often preferred for pain management in cases of osteoarthritis to more traditional painkillers such as NSAIDs, which can have unpleasant side-effects if taken in substantial doses for a prolonged period of time.
Glucosamine has also been effectively used to treat a combination of problems known collectively as chronic venous insufficiency. Chronic venous insufficiency can include swelling of the legs, varicose veins, pain, irritation, itching, skin rash and ulcers. Additionally, injections of glucosamine in conjunction with chondriotin have been shown to be effective in relieving various types of leg pains, including those caused by lumbar degenerative disc disease.
Some doctors have also seen good results when using glucosamine as a supplementary treatment for bowel disorders, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Research into the precise mechanism behind this therapy is still ongoing, though it seems to be effective for a significant number of patients. The action involved is based around the knowledge that glucosamine plays a role in the synthesis of the enzyme that produces mucous in the intestine. Therefore supplementing with glucosamine should increase the production of mucous, easing the suffering of patients while accelerating the healing of damaged tissue in the intestine.
The standard medical dose of glucosamine is around 1,500mg a day, and this is usually in the form of glucosamine sulphate. Often it will be administered with a combination of other supplements, including methylsulfonylmethane and chondroitin. The liquid form of glucosamine is generally preferred, due to its purity, more rapid absorption rate (important when dealing with pain relief), and lack of ‘filler’ compounds.
Glucosamine sulphate is often used by athletes who suffer injuries or discomfort, particularly in their legs or joins, where they may be given injections of it. It is thought that the glucosamine will not only ease pain associated with joint injuries, but also speed recovery time by promoting the synthesis of new cartilage tissue.
Glucosamine also plays a role in the synthesis of hyaluronic acid in the skin, which is one of the essential healing components employed when skin is damaged and needs regenerating. Studies have shown that patients who underwent surgery showed increased rates of healing of their wounds when they took glucosamine before and after surgery. It can also be applied topically to wounds, often as part of a pack or dressing specially formulated with a modified form of glucosamine called poly-N-acetyl glucosamine. Investigations are ongoing into the possible use of this glucosamine variant to stop serious bleeding. Hyaluronic acid is also one of the factors in keeping skin firm and elastic, and regenerating its cells, and therefore some cosmetic skin products include glucosamine to help stimulate this process. This method is thought to be particularly effective in older people, as natural levels of Hyaluronic acid are known to decline with age.
Because glucosamine is manufactured industrially from the exoskeletons of crustaceans, people who are allergic to shellfish should not take it as a supplement, and it may induce allergic reactions in others over if they were previously unaware of any allergy. Though it is possible that glucosamine may cause no side effects in those with shellfish allergies. Some manufacturers use different methods to derive glucosamine from fungi instead for just such an eventuality.
Injections of glucosamine, for example in the case of patients with knee
osteoarthritis, can cause spikes in blood sugar levels that may be problematic
for diabetes sufferers. Taking glucosamine orally does not create these
elevated levels of blood sugar, and should therefore be perfectly safe
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