Cyclists and runners use this over-the-counter natural supplement to prevent musculoskeletal problems. And people over 50 use it to help ease joint pain or osteoarthritis.
Studies exploring its effectiveness have produced mixed results and its value in these conditions continues to be debated. But something surprising has come out of the research.
This popular joint supplement lowers the risk of overall death and does so just as well as regular exercise.
I’m talking about glucosamine.
Glucosamine is naturally found in cartilage tissue which cushions the joints. As a supplement it’s often combined with chondroitin which is also a vital part of cartilage.
This dynamic duo are extremely popular worldwide with annual spending predicted to rise to a whopping $3.6 billion by 2025.
Though glucosamine is popular with the public, several large clinical trials were unable to demonstrate meaningful improvement in joint pain. But other large studies showed a beneficial effect on a very different outcome – long-term mortality.
And the underlying health benefits had absolutely nothing to do with your joints.
Lowers Heart Disease Death By 22 Percent
Several rodent studies indicate glucosamine might have a role in preventing heart disease, so a research team led by Tulane University, New Orleans, studied data on 466,039 British participants over seven years.
The results showed glucosamine users were 18 percent less likely to suffer from coronary heart disease and their risk of stroke was slashed by nine percent. They were also 22 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.
More important, these associations between glucosamine and better heart health were independent of traditional risk factors, including gender, age, income, body mass index, physical activity, healthy diet, alcohol intake, smoking status, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis, drug use, and other supplement use. In other words, these results are about as reliable as a population study can get.
Researchers carried out another large study at The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
Overall Death Down By 18 to 27 Percent
The Seattle team looked at data on 77,510 Washington State residents aged 50 to 76 over a period of eight years. After adjusting for multiple risk factors, those taking glucosamine with or without chondroitin had an 18 percent reduction in the risk of overall death compared to participants that never used glucosamine.
What’s more, researchers found that glucosamine lowered the risk of death from cancer by 13 percent, and respiratory diseases by a sizable 41 percent.
The only other population study was led by Dana King from West Virginia University. His curiosity in the health benefits of glucosamine was piqued when he discovered all the fellow members of his local cycling club were taking it.
After discovering evidence on glucosamine’s positive effects on lifespan, he and a colleague sought to investigate whether a daily supplement of glucosamine/chondroitin would impact cardiovascular health and overall mortality. They examined data from a group of 16,686 Americans over nine years.
After controlling for factors that might account for glucosamine’s positive effects, Dr. King and his team discovered that those taking glucosamine had a 58 percent lower likelihood of cardiovascular death and a 27 percent lower likelihood of early death, much the same as adding regular exercise to your healthy lifestyle.
Wait, Can I Skip the Gym?
“Does this mean…you should just skip the gym [and] take a glucosamine pill…? That’s not what we suggest,” says Professor King. “Keep exercising, but the thought that taking a pill would also be beneficial is intriguing. In my view, it’s important that people know about this.”
Another thing Professor King wants people to know about is how glucosamine works…
One study in healthy humans found glucosamine and chondroitin lowered C-reactive protein by 23 percent compared to the placebo group, indicating that it effectively lowers inflammation. Other inflammation-related pathways were also significantly reduced in the supplemented group.
Additional studies show glucosamine lowers cancer risk by acting on certain pathways that cancer uses to grow, plus it reduces oxidative stress, and has beneficial effects on cholesterol.
Michael Ristow, a prominent German medical researcher who has published many influential articles, found in the study he led that glucosamine promoted longevity in aging mice by almost ten percent due to improved glucose metabolism.
Dr. Ristow said the change witnessed “reflects the metabolic state of a low-carb diet.” This change in metabolism activates the mitochondria – the powerhouses of the cell – in positive ways that promote longevity. In other words, glucosamine appears to act in a similar way to the diabetic drug metformin, which is being explored for its potential to extend lifespan.
The main difference is that while metformin has many side effects, glucosamine has an excellent safety profile.
Dr. Ristow says the best evidence for taking glucosamine is the research showing it can dramatically lower your risk of cardiovascular problems and stroke, but that it’s only beginning. In addition, Dr. Ristow says glucosamine can potentially improve fatty liver disease, lower cancer rates, and help stop dementia. He is so convinced of its value that he takes it himself.