What is the relationship between glucosamine and arthritis? I remember a trip to Naples a number of years ago when the garbage men were on strike. A beautiful city was turned into a mess, with trash bags piled high in mountains of waste.
You may not know it, but every cell in your body has it’s own waste disposal system called autophagy. This process takes away damaged and worn out parts and pieces so that new ones can replace them. However, cellular aging and dysfunction occur when these little garbage men don’t work well or when autophagy is on strike.
The same holds true for the cartilage cells in your joints; they too need a functioning waste disposal system to stay healthy. Recently several studies have focused on chemicals that may enhance or help old cartilage cells keep up with their increasing demands for waste removal. In essence, finding things that increase autophagy may help cartilage stay healthy longer. Recently a paper was published showing that Glucosamine, may work in this way. The research showed that glucosamine increases autophagy in the lab and in animals. This may be a major discovery, as no one has really fully understood how taking glucosamine orally works to help cartilage. One theory has been that it’s a building block of cartilage, therefore consuming more building blocks just gives the local stem cells more “bricks” to use. However, it’s very unlikely that when glucosamine is taken by mouth that much of it makes it into the joint fluid to fulfill this role.
The upshot? Glucosamine is the most common, non-vitamin/mineral supplement used by adults in the United States. It’s a building block of cartilage as well as other tissues, and it’s key place in cartilage metabolism has made it a focus for arthritis symptoms. It looks like one of the crucial functions of Glucosamine may be enhancing the health of old cartilage cells by convincing the cellular garbage men to get off strike!