What you need to know about glucosamine, arthritis and allergies

Depending on who you talk to, glucosamine is either the must-have supplement for anyone with arthritis… or a potentially dangerous supplement that barely works.

In fact, the Australian Rheumatology Association released an official warning recently saying that glucosamine isn’t helpful and can even be harmful by triggering allergic reactions.

So, what’s the deal? Should you keep (or start) taking a glucosamine supplement for your arthritis? Or is it dangerous and ineffective like these recent reports claim?

Here’s what you need to know about how glucosamine impacts your joints and your health…

Glucosamine can trigger serious allergic reactions

The Australian medical community is suddenly taking a firm anti-glucosamine stance because of a recent study that tracked allergic reactions to glucosamine chondroitin supplements between 2000 and 2011.

During that time, 263 people had allergic reactions to glucosamine chondroitin. Most of those reactions were mild to moderate, but roughly six percent were severe.

Now, the primary reason glucosamine products trigger allergic reactions (and sometimes severe ones) is because a lot of glucosamine is made from shellfish. Shellfish allergies are one of the most common food allergies.

But here’s the thing…

Most of us know whether or not we have shellfish allergies (new allergies can develop later in life, but that’s rare). And if we don’t have the allergy, is it really necessary to give up our glucosamine supplement?

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Well, the first thing to consider, is whether it actually works…

One recent research review found it had only a tiny benefit (if any) for people with arthritis. But truth be told, almost all treatments for arthritis (prescription drugs and alternative remedies) don’t have strong evidence to support their effectiveness. One study looked at 62 potential arthritis treatments and found that almost all of them were only supported by low or very-low quality studies.

So, what should you do if you have arthritis?

Related: Natural treatments for arthritis

Well, if you’re already taking a glucosamine supplement and you feel like it’s helping, keep taking it. Besides the allergic reaction risk, it’s pretty safe. Other potential side effects are minor ones, like stomachaches, constipation, diarrhea, headaches, and rashes.

One other thing to know…

Research shows that glucosamine helps people with severe arthritis more than people with mild to moderate arthritis. So, if you have a slight case of arthritis, you may not notice a difference from your glucosamine supplement. But if your arthritis is serious, there’s a good chance it will help some.

A few facts about glucosamine to keep you safe…

Plenty of people are already taking a glucosamine supplement in the U.S.  In fact, it’s the second most popular supplement after fish oil. Whether you’re part of that group or you’re ready to become part, here’s what you need to do to take it safely:

  • Find a glucosamine supplement that isn’t derived from shellfish if you have a shellfish allergy.
  • Be aware that people without shellfish allergies can be allergic to glucosamine (although, it’s very rare).
  • Ask your pharmacist about possible medication interactions. Warfarin, for example, is one medication that can be dangerous to take with glucosamine because of an increased risk of bleeding.
  • Know that taking glucosamine and acetaminophen together can decrease the effectiveness of both.
  • Be aware that it can impact blood sugar levels before and after surgery. So, you should stop taking it two weeks before surgery.
  • Be careful taking it if you have diabetes. There’s a risk it can worsen blood sugar control, although it’s a low risk.
  • Choose glucosamine sulfate, not glucosamine hydrochloride. Glucosamine sulfate is the one proven effective in studies.
  • Take 1,500 mg per day. It’s a safe and effective dose

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  1. What’s behind the new advice to stop taking glucosamine for arthritis? — MedicalXpress
  2. Dietary supplements for treating osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysisBritish Journal of Sports Medicine
  3. Hypersensitive adverse drug reactions to glucosamine and chondroitin preparations in Australia between 2000 and 2011Postgraduate Medical Journal
  4. Glucosamine — Mayo Clinic
  5. Shellfish Allergy — FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education)
  6. Do glucosamine and chondroitin really help arthritis pain? — Harvard Health Publishing
  7. Glucosamine and Shellfish Allergy — Verywell Health
  8. Does Glucosamine Work? Benefits, Dosage and Side Effects — Healthline
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.