What’s new in glucosamine research? Today I’d like to highlight why sometimes we have to take animal and lab studies with a grain of salt. To illustrate that, I’ll use two new studies that show some interesting things about glucosamine, a supplement many people take to help their arthritis. Lab tests had suggested that taking extra glucosamine may hurt the way cells work. However, new research in people shows that while this may happen in the Petri dish, it doesn’t happen in real patients. In addition, additional new research shows that glucosamine the “wonder supplement” helps worms and rats live longer! However, translating that into a person just might prove difficult.
First, researchers had previously suggested that taking extra glucosamine could mess up the way cells make proteins. I had previously discussed this abnormal “unfolded protein response” in knee replacement patients. Does it happen in real patients? Researchers recently looked at the function of white blood cells in patients taking glucosamine and checked the cell function. While the Petri dish experiments would have predicted that the glucosamine would mess up their cells, that didn’t happen in real patient’s cells.
Second, a different set of researchers looked at the effects of glucosamine on the life span of worms and rats. The good news is that the critters lived longer when fed glucosamine. The bad news is that this is likely because feeding them this stuff mimicked a low carbohydrate diet and activated all of the life extension machinery seen in animals when they eat less. Could this translate to humans? Likely not, as while the monkey version of a similar experiment looked promising in making old moneys look young, it didn’t pan that the underfed monkeys lived any longer than the overfed variety.
The upshot? Sometimes things don’t translate from the lab to real patients. While glucosamine is a great supplement that really seems to help knee arthritis, I wouldn’t expect it to make you live any longer!