Glucosamine: The Basic Building Block Of Cartilage
Glucosamine is an amino sugar (a combination of an amino acid – glutamine, and a sugar – glucose) normally found in healthy cartilage. It is synthesized by many cells in our body but is concentrated in joint cartilage.
Glucosamine functions as the basic building block of cartilage by first being a basic building block of glycosaminoglycans (GAG) which themselves make up very large structures known as proteoglycans. Without adequate glucosamine, proteoglycans synthesis by chondrocytes would shut down, and this in turn would cause the synthesis of cartilage to stop.
Glucosamine makes up 50% of one of the most important GAGs, hyaluronic acid, which acts as a “glue” that holds cartilage matrix together. Hyaluronic acid is also a critical component of synovial fluid, which lubricates joints and keeps cartilage smooth and healthy.
How Does Glucosamine Work?
Studies have shown that glucosamine stimulates chondrocytes to synthesize more collagen and proteoglycans, the molecules responsible for establishing cartilage matrix and for the resilience of cartilage. Scientists believe that the amount of glucosamine at the joint determines the amount of proteoglycans and collagen produced. The end result would be healthier cartilage. In this way, glucosamine can help the body repair damaged or worn out cartilage. It works at the cellular level to reinforce our natural “repair” ability. Glucosamine has also been shown to inhibit the proteolytic enzymes that are responsible for breaking down cartilage and to have an antiinflammatory effect in osteoarthritis.
Where Do I Get Glucosamine?
As mentioned above, glucosamine is manufactured by specific cells that have the ability to combine the amino acid glutamine and the carbohydrate glucose. Some glucosamine also enters the body through the diet from the consumption of animals and fish. During “the development years,” the body is at its most efficient in terms of glucosamine production and cartilage creation, maintenance, and repair. High production efficiency of glucosamine and cartilage is a necessity for growth and development. Scientists believe that as the body ages its efficiency or capacity for producing glucosamine and ultimately cartilage declines, resulting in prolonged periods where demand for glucosamine production for cartilage regeneration or repair exceeds supply.
When Demand Exceeds Supply!
Throughout our lives there is constant demand on the body to create, maintain, repair, and regenerate cartilage and the glucosamine from which it’s made. As previously mentioned, glucosamine is made in many cells of the body by the biological combining of glucose and glutamine. However, the process is very complicated and as we age the body’s efficiency and capacity to produce glucosamine and thus cartilage can be dramatically restricted. This loss of glucosamine production combined with an increase in demand due to physical activity or age related cartilage degeneration can result in a situation where demand for glucosamine exceeds supply. The result is the pain, stiffness, and loss of mobility known as osteoarthritis.
Does Supplementation Really Work?
Because the body’s complex process of cellular manufacture or biosynthesis results in a circulating “pool” of stable glucosamine in the body, many scientists believe that providing the body with increased amounts “preformed” glucosamine will help keep supply ahead of demand and thus stop or even reverse degenerative cartilage loss. Several studies have explored the effects of glucosamine supplementation. Studies documenting the effects of giving subjects a dose of 1500 mg of glucosamine followed the participants over a three-year period and found that glucosamine can slow the breakdown of joint cartilage. Results from double blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies consistently illustrate glucosamine’s role in joint cartilage production. Glucosamine has been shown to slow down or stop the progression of arthritis of the knee, finger joints, hip, and spinal disks. Studies have shown glucosamine is also effective in addressing the symptoms of osteoarthritis, particularly joint stiffness, pain, and decreased range of motion.
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