As you get older, an array of health problems lie in wait ready to do you in. Many of them are linked to inflammation – destructive misbehavior of your immune system. And you may have heard the term “inflammaging” – which refers to the danger of the immune system speeding up the aging process as inflammation ramps up.
Paradoxically, this type of inflammation can make your immune system both more active and less effective. Meaning it’s less able to protect the body against disease but more active in damaging the body’s own tissues.
But researchers say glucosamine, a popular supplement often used to relieve joint pain, may offset the damage of inflammation. In fact, the latest research shows glucosamine can even help you live longer.
Glucosamine is found naturally in your body, in the fluid around your joints. Glucosamine supplements became popular some twenty years ago when research began showing they could help protect joint cartilage against wear and tear.
A study at West Virginia University shows that the benefits of taking glucosamine supplements goes beyond joint health; they can also help you live longer. In fact, the researchers report that these supplements may be as potent as getting regular exercise in extending life expectancy.
“Does this mean that if you get off work at five o’clock one day, you should just skip the gym, take a glucosamine pill and go home instead?” says researcher Dana King, who chairs West Virginia’s department of family medicine. “That’s not what we suggest. Keep exercising, but the thought that taking a pill would also be beneficial is intriguing.”
39 Percent Less Likely to Die
Dr. King’s study analyzed ten years of health data from more than 16,000 people in the National Health and Nutrition Examination study. All of the subjects in the research were in their 40s or older.
The analysis shows that the people in the study who took a daily supplement of glucosamine/chondroitin for a least a year were 39 percent less likely to die during the ten years of follow-up.1 (Chondroitin is another vital part of joint cartilage. Studies show supplements can prevent cartilage breakdown.)
The data also demonstrated that taking glucosamine/chondroitin supplements reduced the chance of dying from cardiovascular-related problems during the ten-year follow-up period by 65 percent. Those problems include stroke, coronary artery disease and heart disease, which is the biggest killer in the United States.
If either or both these findings hold up in further research, these supplements will be an amazing advance in anti-aging medicine.
But there’s even more evidence: Researchers in England who have studied its heart-protective effects report that glucosamine lowers levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood, a protein that is linked to harmful inflammation and heart disease.2
Dr. King grew interested in studying glucosamine when he realized everybody in his bicycling club was taking it.
“One day I asked the other cyclists if they took glucosamine, and everyone did. And I thought, ‘Well, I wonder if this is really helpful?’ That’s how I got curious about it.”
The Low-Carb Diet Pill
According to researchers in Switzerland, an important way glucosamine may help extend our lives is by leading the physiology of the body to behave as though we’re consuming a low-carb diet – lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein.
Their lab tests – performed on animals – show that glucosamine causes changes in cells that are linked to preferentially breaking down amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) to make energy instead of using carbs.3
According to researcher Michael Ristow, when glucosamine increases the use of amino acids to generate energy from cells’ mitochondria (their energy-producing organelles), the mitochondria produce larger amounts of ROS (reactive oxygen species), which are oxidative free radicals that, in the moderate amounts that result, have been shown to increase lifespan.4
Helpful to the Brain
Glucosamine can also do good things for the brain, according to research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
In these lab tests, researchers found that glucosamine may alter the way brain cells use proteins in ways that hold back the harmful hyperexcitability in neurons that can bring on seizures. This research is still in an early stage, but the scientists believe that glucosamine has potential clinical use as a treatment for combatting epilepsy.5
To sum up, all the research I have been able to find suggests that taking glucosamine is a good bet for potentially increasing your life expectancy and promoting your heart health.
Dr. Ristow in Switzerland points out that glucosamine is remarkably safe with few side effects reported. However, he thinks if you have type-2 diabetes, you should be cautious with glucosamine until you’re sure it doesn’t lower your blood sugar too much.
Dr. Ristow also doesn’t think the supplement is necessarily a good idea for people with type-1 diabetes. However, the folks at the Mayo Clinic don’t agree—they report that glucosamine can be helpful. But the Mayo Clinic researchers point out that glucosamine can interact with warfarin, a blood thinner. To be safe, take care if you’re a diabetic or on blood thinners. In those cases, you should consult with your healthcare provider before taking this supplement.
In general, I think a supplement that lowers blood sugar and thins the blood is a golden opportunity to take fewer drugs. But making the transition can be complicated – hence the need for a doctor’s help.