If you check around the internet, you’ll see any number of sites that promote glucosamine supplements for joint pain. Some of them promote this supplement for carpal tunnel syndrome and other forms of tendonitis as well…but is it really effective?
Glucosamine has a lot going for it. It’s cheap, widely available, easily absorbed by the body, and better tolerated in people than NSAIDs such as aspirin and ibuprofen. The pain-relieving effects last longer than NSAIDs, too (even if it’s not as fast-acting). Furthermore, unlike some other supplements it has been extensively studied in clinical settings, with thousands of subjects. And sales in the USA top over a billion dollars a year, so clearly a lot of people think that something good is going on. Let’s take a look and see exactly what’s what.
Joints are made up mainly of cartilage, and glucosamine has been shown in dozens of scientific studies to have a beneficial effect on cartilage formation. While the exact mechanism isn’t clearly understood, it seems that taking glucosamine helps your joints heal because your body is able to manufacture cartilage at an increased rate. Older people in particular benefit from this effect, as rates of production tend to decline with age.
Furthermore, according to some studies glucosamine’s action can be enhanced by combining it with other natural substances such as chondroitin and/or MSM. This combination seems to be especially effective for certain types of arthritis (osteoarthritis in particular), and both clinical and anecdotal evidence point to the fact that it works.
So what about the effects of these substances on carpal tunnel syndrome? CTS is a manifestation of tendon pain, either tendonitis or tendonosis (more likely tendonosis, which is actual degeneration of the tendon). People assume that because tendons connect muscles to bones – and because these connections generally occur near joints – tendons themselves are also composed of cartilage. Unfortunately, this assumption is incorrect. Without getting too technical, tendons and joints are different. Among other factors, tendons have blood vessels (which cartilage does not) and are made up mostly of fibrous collagen, not cartilage. There is absolutely no evidence that glucosamine, chondroitin or MSM have any beneficial effect whatsoever on collagen formation.
So if you’re looking for a solution to CTS or other tendon pain and find yourself at a site that is trying to sell you a glucosamine supplement (with or without chondroitin or MSM) to help deal with it, you might want to look elsewhere. To put it bluntly, sites that try to tell you that a cartilage-building supplement will heal collagen structures are simply blowing smoke. A better supplement idea would be to get a really good COX-2 inhibitor like Repair Gold, and a better overall nutritional strategy would be to examine your diet and make sure that it’s not too weighted with Omega-6 fats.