Posted by Diane Peterson

Glucosamine Sulfate (G.S.), a well known supplement, is a precursor for the glycosaminoglycan (G.A.G.) family, which are a specialized group of carbohydrates important for their functional role in connective tissues. G.S. has been marketed as a therapeutic management protocol for arthritis and other related joint conditions and is often “claimed” to build cartilage. The glucosamine molecule is composed basically of long branched polysaccharides linked with an amine. Some other familiar members of the G.A.G. family are chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronan (hyaluronic acid). G.S.’s main physiological effect is based on the premise that it stimulates the manufacture of glycosaminoglycans, the major component of joint cartilage. This thought process is what gives the idea that G.S. actually builds cartilage. G.S. has also been noted for encouraging the incorporation of some sulfur into the cartilage matrix. 

So far, there is research which suggests that some people lose the ability to produce adequate levels of specific glucosamine as they age and this is one primary reason for supporting the role of giving glucosamine for cartilage health. But there are other variables which need to be considered as to why some people lose this observed ability of intrinsic G.S. production. A frank deficiency of formed G.S within the body is not necessarily an indication to give the supplement. As an example, the metabolic rate of the assembly capacity of G.S. due to various conditions could be the reason why the G.S. molecule is not being formed. Taking the G.S. supplement without recognition of the causative factors regarding low production of G.S levels could be similar to taking a sugar pill; literally (polysaccharides). 

The clinical benefits of administering G.S. in the treatment of osteoarthritis have shown mixed reviews and understanding the primary dynamics of this compound may help give us a clearer understanding of these varied results. 

The different recognized types of Cartilages (3 basic) are incorporated into the primary types of collagen. These collagen types (28 thus recognized) are the most abundant protein in mammals and are made up of a triple helical structure of amino acids (residues). The type of collagen is determined by the amino make up (peptide) and other translational processes, but for the sake of this article, the biochemical synthesis will be kept simplistic (I just heard a big sigh from the readers). The important thing to keep in mind is understanding how collagen (cartilage) is developed; within and outside of the cells. The primary nucleus or building block of mature collagen consists of these amino acids (residues) which are assembled (post translational modification) by our own cells via the help of a hydroxylation factor, such as Iron, oxygen or micro amounts of ascorbate. Think of an automobile manufacturing plant where the plant is the cell, the workers are the hydroxylation process and the materials are the amino acids. What should come out of this process is the finished product; a specific model car (collagen). If any of these processes are absent or insufficient, then there would be no finished product. 

Understanding the basic make up of both G.S. and collagen enables us to understand that G.S. is a preformed substance (finished product) whose destiny is the catabolic pathway (breakdown) rather than anabolic (build up). It has no biochemical capacity of building cartilage accept for the liberation upon its breakdown of a few basic components, such as sulfur, which offers some alliance to already mature developed cartilage. The liberation of a certain amount of sulfur could explain why G.S. has been noted to produce mild anti-inflammatory results. Head to head double blind studies have shown that G.S. produces equal to superior long term results than non steroidal anti- inflammatory (NSAID) drugs regarding pain of osteoarthritis. It should be pointed out that methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) has exhibited nearly identical benefits for osteoarthritis pain as G.S., suggesting it is this sulfur component liberated by both MSM and GS that produces the pain relief. 

Taking either M.S.M. or G.S. for pain relief with osteoarthritis currently appears as a favored long term beneficial treatment protocol over NSAIDs, particularly when analyzing some of the detrimental side effects of some NSAIDs. However, understanding the actual role of a particular compound or medication is also important and when advertising or marketing a supplement/medication under one concept which is not actually true can present an overall long term disfavor to the general public. Simply put, there is no current biochemical evidence showing that G.S. definitively builds cartilage. 

The cost of an organosulfur component or even food source can be far less expensive than G.S. supplements and could generate the same pain relief benefits by virtue of the sulfur itself.   


By - Kevin Meehan