Glucosamine and Lifespan: Can This Inflammation-Fighting Joint Health Supplement Reduce Mortality Risk?

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supplemental glucosamine is linked to improved joint pain and decreased mortality risk

In the past few years, glucosamine has become one of the most widely used over-the-counter supplements, with approximately 20% of the population taking it. Glucosamine’s initial claim to fame came about after research showed that it could be useful for easing joint pain. Its anti-inflammatory properties soon made it in high demand amongst those seeking to relieve pain from osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

However, a growing amount of research has uncovered evidence suggesting that glucosamine may play a beneficial role in preventing chronic diseases and their resulting mortality rates.

The fact that glucosamine supplementation has become so widespread has allowed researchers to follow large groups of glucosamine users over several years and observe changes to their health. The resulting data, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases in June 2020, sheds some light on other effects glucosamine may have on the body. 

supplemental glucosamine may improve symptoms related to joint pain or osteoarthritis

What Exactly is Glucosamine?

Glucosamine was discovered in the 1960s by Italian pharmacologist Luigi Rovati, who described it as a  polysaccharide, a type of compound molecule consisting of a chain-like arrangement of sugars. It is naturally produced in the body and is involved in the production and upkeep of cartilage. 

Over time, the amount of glucosamine in the body decreases, leading to an overall breakdown of cartilage integrity. Since cartilage is a significant component of most joints, this leaves joints vulnerable to the compounding effects of wear-and-tear caused by movement and daily activities. 

Eventually, cartilage erodes enough to affect the underlying bone, further compromising the integrity of joints. In addition to damaging joints, cartilage erosion causes a state of chronic inflammation, leading to osteoarthritis and a painful vicious cycle of inflammatory tissue damage.

Further research determined glucosamine’s critical role in the maintenance of healthy joints. Soon, glucosamine was marketed as a supplement for joint health. Although millions of people experience glucosamine’s protective benefits, scientists do not clearly understand the underlying mechanism. Another factor adding to the uncertainty is that glucosamine supplementation seems to produce a wide range of results. For example, one large study of people with osteoarthritis published in the New England Journal of Medicine found no effect at all from supplemental glucosamine.

supplemental glucosamine may improve symptoms related to joint pain or osteoarthritis

Glucosamine, Inflammation, and Chronic Disease

Due to these mixed results, the effectiveness of supplementing with glucosamine for osteoarthritis is considered somewhat controversial among scientists. However, as scientists studied glucosamine further, they discovered that it has some remarkable anti-inflammatory properties. 

This effect on inflammation could decrease the risk of multiple diseases. Most remarkably, researchers believe that supplementation with glucosamine might play a role in the prevention of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic conditions.

Recent Research: Glucosamine and Mortality Risk

A June 2020 study published in Annals of Rheumatic Diseases studied the effects of glucosamine supplementation in adults from the UK. Researchers followed close to half a million individuals over eight years and monitored several different health outcomes throughout the study’s length.

The authors noted that glucosamine users experienced significantly lower mortality rates related to cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, digestive diseases, and cancer compared to participants who didn’t supplement.

Most importantly, the total mortality rates were 15% lower for the group that consistently used glucosamine. When looking into specific diseases, mortality rates were 18% lower for cardiovascular disease, 6% lower for cancer, 27% lower for respiratory illness, and 26% lower for digestive disorders. 

Remarkably, the effects of glucosamine supplementation seemed to hold strong even among participants who were chronic smokers. Although these results were surprising, they reflect some of the results observed in previous studies on animals and humans

In one such study, researchers examined glucosamine’s effects on longevity in animals, and their results were so promising that they recommended exploring this effect in further clinical trials. 

The effects of glucosamine supplementation have also been studied in the lab. In a study published in The American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers observed that glucosamine use was associated with lower C-reactive protein levels, a crucial marker of inflammation.

In addition to the observed effects on inflammation, it is believed that glucosamine supplementation produces an effect similar to low-carbohydrate diets. Studies have shown that this type of diet promotes beneficial health outcomes and may reduce mortality risk. 

Key Takeaway:

Sixty years have passed since Dr. Rovati discovered this natural polysaccharide. It has risen from obscurity to become one of the most popular joint health supplements in use today.

Several studies show that chronic glucosamine use is linked to improved health outcomes. This most recent study exhibits the beneficial effects of glucosamine on all-cause mortality and mortality rates for cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive diseases. However, more research will be necessary to understand the exact mechanisms by which glucosamine exerts its protective effects. 

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