You can find glucosamine, and every other nutrient your body needs from the food you ingest.
I’ve told you about my cozy little gym in Malibu, Malibu Fitness. We have quite the familial, neighborhood vibe. We all look out for each other and share fitness, health and well being tips. Generally as a group, we seek ways to share knowledge. A few days back, an exceptionally experienced power lifter approached me and asked how my dead lifts were coming. In his heyday, he was a freak, like record-holder strong, so when he talks, I listen. I told him my deadlifts were great, but my squats were bugging me in that I’ve been feeling some impingement in my hips.
As I mentioned, everybody’s intention is to help, and my man started to sell me on a glucosamine supplement that might help. Ughhhh. I can’t blame him. He doesn’t know my philosophy on supplements. When I expressed that I don’t take supplements and that I can get adequate amounts of nutrients from my foods, he gazed at me perplexed and skeptical. I like that. We were about to engage.
In order for his argument to work, three things need to be true. First, glucosamine needs to be a substance our bodies need. Second, additional glucosamine, from whatever source, needs to be helpful in solving the problem that I’m having – in this case, my hip impingement Third, the most effective method of getting the glucosamine needs to be from pills, not food. Let’s navigate those individually.
Glucosamine is a chemical that our bodies make naturally. It is a precursor to glycosaminoglycans, essentially the lubricant in the fluid around all of our joints. This fluid acts as a shock absorber, cushioning and protecting our joints when we move. In other words, it’s definitely necessary for our bodies, so we can check that box. No, I didn’t know this off the top of my head. Yes, I googled it. Homework, people.
Will additional glucosamine help me? The evidence doesn’t appear to be strongly in favor of this point. Some studies have indicated that there is mild pain improvement for some kinds of knee arthritis, but others suggest it’s no better than placebo treatments. And, I don’t have knee arthritis.
GH is ineffective for pain reduction in patients with knee OA. GS may have function-modifying effects in patients with knee OA when administered for more than 6 months. However, it showed no pain-reduction benefits after 6 months of therapy.
Other studies have not found any benefit for other joints. My body likely doesn’t need any help making glucosamine. The benefits from the chemical come from what our bodies can naturally produce, and simply adding more doesn’t help. From a study:
The results indicate that exogenous glucosamine does not stimulate chondroitin sulfate synthesis by human chondrocytes. Furthermore, the cells have the capacity to form amounts of glucosamine from glucose far in excess of that provided from exogenous sources, except at concentrations greater than could possibly be achieved with oral administration of glucosamine.
But let’s assume that it might help my hip flexor issues. This brings us to the larger question – should we be crushing it in pill form?
My friend from the gym thinks that we can’t get what we need from food because our soil is depleted of nutrients. Bottled, processed pills may be only way. He cited a nutrition journal, removing it from his bag to show me. Perfect, I had a plan to immediately discredit the book. In my mind I was already expecting the publishing date of this antiquated manual to be in the mid 2000s. I opened it and found that it was published in the last year, in 2014. Damn. Our conversation continued as I attempted to stay open minded. My friend wanted to share a particular passage with me about how the typical American diet doesn’t provide ample nutrients and therefore we must supplement. That was easy, I don’t eat the typical American diet. But glucosamine is tricky. You have to work a bit harder for it. That’s why I eat the bones. (If that’s too much, try the broth). From paleoleap.com:
As well as providing the raw materials for healthy bones and joints, the proteins in bone broth deliver an especially interesting benefit for rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disease marked by painful damage to the tendons and ligaments. Specifically, these proteins may actually help stop the autoimmune response in its tracks. One study found that chicken collagen dramatically improved symptoms in 60 patients; four of them showed complete remission…Interestingly enough, the studies evaluating glucosamine + chondroitin supplements have produced conflicting and inconclusive results, and there seems to be a significant bias introduced by industry funding. However, one study compared glucosamine + chondroitin to plain collagen and found that the collagen was actually more effective, indicating that there might be something in the whole food that the supplements miss.
Our first solution to soreness or aging (39 for 2 more months) in our bodies should not be to reach for a bottle off the shelf. Many folks who take glucosamine supplements don’t notice an effect immediately. This isn’t surprising – even in the studies that suggest moderate pain improvement, it takes 4-8 weeks of daily pills to achieve that effect. While glucosamine has not been proven to have harmful effects even when taking 1,500 mg daily, many people get impatient and take significantly more than that dosage. A recent study suggested that the higher doses damaged pancreatic cells and possibly increased risk for diabetes.
Our bodies have evolved to maintain balance. The supplement industry promotes a mindset of popping a pill to correct this problem, taking a powder to correct that one and shortcuts for everything. Continually throwing our systems out of balance with a “more is better” attitude can lead to significantly larger problems down the road. By hunting a well balanced nutritional approach, we provide our bodies with sustenance in a form we evolved to process and use.
GNC is a modern day snake oil salesman. Next time the shelves offer you a cure for whatever soreness you’re experiencing, do some legwork and break down the claim. Question the assumptions instead of falling for the hype. And eat some bones.