When I give lectures and talk about glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates (G&CS), most people are surprised to learn that these two natural substances are beneficial for both young and old people.
Popularized in the U.S.A. as treatments for osteoarthritis, the same reasons G&CS works for reducing the degradation of connective tissues in diseased joints, and other associated symptoms, such as pain, inflammation, stiffness, weakness, and poor flexibility, is why G&CS work to help everybody build a stronger body.
These two substances are worth including in your daily supplement program, especially when undergoing periods of strenuous training and athletic competition, or for speeding up recovery from sports related injuries.
Benefits For Athletes Are Actually Old News
In 1984 researchers in Frankfurt, Germany, brought to the attention of the world the benefits of glucosamine for healing knee problems in young athletes. A condition called chondropathia patellae is a common disorder of the knee in young athletes. The healing of this affliction must be rapid to avoid the development of future serious degenerative joint disease.
After taking a glucosamine supplement (1,500 mg per day for a few months) the teenage athletes quickly recovered, and returned to training. Reduction in knee pain was observed in just a few weeks. Furthermore, after a 12 month period of returning to training, researchers observed that the young athletes did not experience a recurrence of the knee problem.
After taking a glucosamine supplement the teenage athletes quickly recovered, and returned to training...
The results of this landmark study clearly demonstrated the potent connective tissue repair, growth promoting and maintenance abilities of glucosamine supplements for athletes. Also, helping to prevent future joint problems, including development of osteoarthritis; this is all too common among athletes and the physically active.
Research Reports More Benefits From Taking G&CS Supplements
The most recent studies even show that taking G&CS supplements helps to reduce joint space narrowing due to connective tissue wear-and-tear, and can even prevent osteoarthritis from developing in the first place. Remember G&CS builds connective tissues, such as skin, tendons, ligaments, bone, and cartilage, which forms the matrix that is involved in holding your entire body together.
G&CS are made by the body similar to other metabolites, like creatine for example, but active people (especially athletes) create a demand for these substances that can be greater than the body can supply.
What To Do?
Take supplements of G&CS to build and repair connective tissues faster and make them stronger.
This G&SC supply and demand problem is of special concern to all athletes who subject their body's to overuse, also people whose work is physically demanding. (Aside: I keep bringing this up in my teachings, about people who are engaged in physically demanding work, because most physical labor jobs are many times more stressful, damaging and demanding on the body than athletic or bodybuilding training.
In fact, physical laborers are actually "occupational athletes", and need to follow a performance nutrition regimen for peak performance and maintenance of good health.) People engaged in progressive resistance training are especially susceptible to joint and connective tissue related injuries due to the constant wear and tear from the incredible force experienced by the joints that is created during high intensity training.
The benefits G&CS have to offer are obvious for anyone who is interested in building a stronger, better healthier body; preventing connective tissue & joint problems; and reducing the risk of developing arthritis. Some of the first studies regarding G&CS also found a beneficial effect on improving circulatory system function.
When you think about how G&CS promote the growth of connective tissues, this makes perfect sense, as the circulatory system is made up of a high percentage of connective tissue.
More Gains, Without Pain?
Topping off the numerous benefits of taking a high quality G&CS supplement is the reduction of pain and inflammation. Conventional pain killers are common to athletes; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) and steroidal drugs, for example. Surgery is commonly required to relieve the pain and inflammation due to athletic related connective tissue injuries.
But, the good news is that research reports taking G&CS supplements can reduce pain and inflammation, in some cases as good as ibuprofen, and without the side effects common to NSAID's and steroidal drugs. A double bonus is that G&CS builds the body in the process of reducing pain and inflammation, making the best of both world's possible.
Note: most NSAID's and steroidal drugs prescribed for pain have damaging effects on the body with long-term use, G&CS do not have these adverse effects.
Here is a summary of what some of the medical studies report about the numerous benefits people have experienced from taking high quality, research grade Glucosamine & Chondroitin Sulfate and why you should consider including a G&CS supplement in to your athletic nutrition program:
Improved wound healing
Faster recovery from injuries
Pain relief / reduction in pain levels
Reduction in pain at rest
Reduction in joint tenderness
Reduction in joint swelling
Improved physical performance
Reduction in rubbing noises of the joints
Increased flexibility / range of motion
Inhibition of connective tissue degradation
Stabilize joint space width
Treatment of osteoarthritis
Joint health improvements
Enhanced synthesis of connective tissues
Help reduce exercise related injuries
Reduction in knee pain
Slows tissue degradation
Increases bone healing and repair
Improves skin appearance
Reduce skin wrinkles and fine lines
For muscle building athletes these benefits are outstanding. If you never tried taking G&CS supplements before, first time users will notice a very pronounced improvement in muscle growth rate, muscle density, and joint strength and function. You should also see improvements in other parts of your body, as G&CS support growth of all tissues.
Have You Noticed Any Positive Effects From Taking G&CS Products?
For example, improved skin appearance (including reduction in fine lines and wrinkles), reduction in the incidence and duration of injuries, faster recover from injuries, and overall improved body motion abilities, plus a reduction in pain and inflammation. Even stronger nails and thickening of hair (the shafts, not number of hairs) is commonly reported by G&CS users.
Some Technical Jargon
Glycosaminoglycans (GAG's) is the technical term often used to describe the substances that comprise the category of connective tissues. Connective tissues by virtue of their physical and chemical characteristics are a gel-like matrix that forms the body's ground substance. GAG's function to stabilize & support tissues and cells. They also have a common property of holding water and being lubricating. In fact, as an aside, the lubricating properties of mucous secretions are due to GAG's present in these fluids.
All About Glucosamine!
The main basic purpose of glucosamine is to create long chains called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), which the joints and cartilage require for repair. Find out how it can help you!
Inside the body, GAG's function not only to hold everything together, but to also provide cushioning between tissues and structures, like bones connecting at joints, and also lubrication of the body parts and tissues, as well as helping to retain moisture in the body. Taking glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements plays a vital role in the formation and maintenance of the body's glycosaminoglycans.
Glycosaminoglycans consist of repeating units (chains) of smaller disaccharide units. Some of the major GAG's and their disaccharide units are:
Chondroitin sulfates: glucuronic acid & N-acetylgalactosamine
Dermatan sulfate: iduronic acid & N-acetylgalactosamine
Keratan sulfate: galactose & N-acetylglucosamine
Heparin: glucuronic acid or iduronic acid & glucosamine
Hyaluronic acid: glucuronic acid & N-acetylglucosamine
Glucosamine is part of most glycosaminoglycans as glucosamine or N-acetylglucosamine, and is used to make other GAG subunits, such as N-acetylgalactosamine. The point of this technical jargon review illustrates that G&CS work in many ways to stimulate, support production, maintenance and repair of the connective tissues in your body.
It may be news to some readers that glucose has a vital structural role in the body as a precursor of glucosamine and also glucuronic acid, in addition to its role as an energy producing nutrient. It is thought that the biochemical step that converts glucose to glucosamine, is the limiting step in connective tissue formation, and this is why taking glucosamine supplements helps to improve the rate of biosynthesis of connective tissues.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have been extensively studied separately in clinical studies. Dozens of studies conducted around the world have concluded that these two substances indeed are effective on their own. However, from the above jargon, it is easy to understand how these natural substances can have additive effects when taken together, as they support the formation of many types of connective tissues in different ways.
Although it has become common practice to take G&CS supplement, it was not until the 21st century that researchers actually conducted studies to confirm this synergistic effect. Yes, research studies like the one conducted by Lippiello and coworkers in 2000, was the first to report that G&CS taken together produced greater results then glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate alone.
From Lippiello's research it was also determined that in addition to the combination of G&CS having a synergistic effect on connective tissue growth, a connective tissue protective effect was also noted. It was observed that CS was effective in inhibiting enzymes, which breakdown connective tissues. So this connective tissue protective effect makes the benefits of taking C&CS even greater than previously thought.
As an aside, the National Institutes of Health is currently undertaking a massive multi-center research study to further determine the benefits of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. This NIH study will compare the effects of taking a placebo or glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate or both G&CS, on people who have osteoarthritis of the knee. Referred to as GAIT (Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial), I'll keep you posted on the results of this study, which are due out in 2005.
Are The Effects Of Taking G&CS Lasting?
From the research conducted with people who had osteoarthritis, the general observation was that improvements were seen starting in a few weeks, followed progressive improvements after 3 months, and so on. When people stopped taking G&CS, after several weeks the symptoms began to reappear. When G&CS supplements were taken again, the symptoms again improved.
Regarding healthy athletes with no apparent symptoms of connective tissue problems, there is currently no clear trend identified about what happens when G&CS is taken and then discontinued. The thinking among researchers is that taking G&CS supplements can help to build a stronger connective tissue matrix in the first place, to then help improve the way the body performs, and to prevent or reduce the occurrence of future injury and/or development of arthritis later in life.
So,the overall benefits of taking G&CS for athletic people of any age, especially if you are experiencing any joint pain or stiffness, include:
Stronger muscle, bones, and connective tissues
Improved joint lubrication
Better hydration of all tissues
Good cushioning and shock absorbing
Increased joint strength and stability
Reduction in connective tissue injuries or the severity of injuries
Tougher and stronger skin, hair and nails
Possible prevention of future development of osteoporosis, which is common among athletes
My Experience With G&CS
I started taking glucosamine in the early 1990's when it first became available in the U.S.A. Within a few weeks my chronic knee pain was gone, and in a few months the pain in my shoulders disappeared. I also noticed that my muscles were stronger and felt denser.
Within a few weeks my chronic knee pain was gone, and in a few months the pain in my shoulders disappeared.
Eventually, I also experienced less delayed onset muscle soreness, and when it did occur, it was much less severe. I also experienced improvements in my hair, nails and skin, including better hydrated skin. More recently I also started taking G&CS together.
All told, I'm 100% satisfied with the results I have experienced from taking G&CS as part of my daily supplement program. I just wish this stuff was around when I started lifting weights in my youth. Back then, the consensus among weight lifters was that muscular strength and growth was faster then connective tissue growth.
Therefore this was one of the reasons why most weight lifters would frequently experience connective tissue problems. Perhaps the new generation of weight lifters can avoid this by taking a G&CS supplement, in addition to pacing their progress to the entire body develops in harmony.
Who Should Take A G&CS Supplement?
For people who have osteoarthritis or joint pain, use G&CS under doctor supervision.
For athletes, use depends on the situation and what your budget permits. My standard recommendation is to not give up taking your daily multiple vitamin and mineral and protein supplements; these come first. So, assuming your budget permits, people who never used G&CS should try taking it for 6 months. This will help provide a connective tissue growth surge.
Also, other times to include a G&CS supplement into your program is during periods of intensive training and athletic competition; when recovering from injury to improve the healing process; and if you feel aches and pains in your joints from the wear and tear of training. Always consult with your doctor to supervise your recovery from injury and to properly diagnose and treat signs of injury, which include aches and pains.
Taking G&CS For Best Results
The key to getting the same results reported in the scientific studies is to use a high quality, research grade G&CA supplement, at the proper daily dosage and for a proper duration to time. Taking glucosamine and CS separately works, and taking them together may work even better.
The most effective dosages reported in the medical research studies is 1,500 mg Glucosamine and 1,200 mg Chondroitin sulfate per day, usually taken in divided dosages; total daily dosage divided over 2 or 3 smaller dosages; taken in the morning, (afternoon), and evening.
Note that smaller dosages of Glucosamine and Chondroitin sulfate can be beneficial to help support connective tissue growth in a general way. But the higher dosages should be taken for first timer's, and under the aforementioned circumstances of training or affliction.
While some results will be noticed in just weeks, it is best to take G&CS for several months at a time, and on going to prevent or manage existing problems. Studies have tracked the safe use of G&CS for three years, with no major side effects reported.
Some times gastrointestinal upset may occur, which usually goes away on its own, or by taking the G&CS supplement with meals. Also, maintaining good hydration by drinking adequate amounts of water is always useful.
I recommend you only take a high quality research grade product, in capsule from, which will provide you with better results. Good quality glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are expensive ingredients, especially CS. So, products with low retail prices usually indicates that cheaper ingredients were use to make them.
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Reprinted with Permission. ©Copyright 2004 SUPPLEMENTFACTS International LLC. All rights reserved. This article is not intended to replace medical advice; consult your doctor for all matters related to your health.
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