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How Does Glucosamine Work?

By Matt Brughelli ; Updated April 18, 2017

Glucosamine is a dietary supplement used for treating joint pain and osteoarthritis. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), glucosamine supplements have proven to be effective at treating osteoarthritis of the knee. Several types of glucosamine supplements are available at most health food stores and pharmacies. Glucosamine supplements are derived from shell fish or vegetables.


Osteoarthritis is a condition in which the cartilage in the joints is thinned and worn down. This is a very common condition as people grow older. The cartilage acts as a cushion and shock absorber between the bones. This condition results in joint pain, inflammation and reduced mobility. Osteoarthritis is common in the hands, feet, spine, hip and knees.

Healthy Cartilage

Healthy cartilage consists of an extracellular matrix that consists of water, collagen and proteoglycan. The water and proteoglycan provide lubrication and strength, and prevent degradation of the cartilage. Because cartilage does not have a blood supply, water and proteoglycan are supplied from body fluids during normal human movements. Thus, cartilage grows and repairs itself relatively slowly compared with other connective tissues.

Stimulation of Proteoglycans

Glucosamine has been shown to stimulate the building of proteoglycans, which provide the structure, or threads, to the extracellular matrix. They also bind with water and regulate the movement of molecules throughout the matrix. If proteoglycan content decreases, the cartilage will become susceptible to degradation.

Formation of Glycosaminoglycans

Glucosamine is essential for the formation of glycosaminoglycans, which hold water inside the joints during normal movements. The water held inside the joint acts as a shock absorber. If more water is held inside the joint, more shock absorption and protection will be available. Glycosaminoglycan levels decrease as people grow older.

Synovial Fluids

Glucosamine is thought to increase the amount and thickness of synovial fluids in the joints. This allows the joint to hold more water, which increases shock absorption. Synovial fluids also lubricate the joint and increase the viscosity of the fluids. Synovial fluids dissipate with age and osteoarthritis.

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