Glucosamine sulfate, long considered beneficial for arthritis, is getting popular for another reason – helping heart disease. While it may seem odd, there is research on this topic. In this review, I'll look at the research linking glucosamine supplements to reductions in heart disease and heart attacks. Does it work or is it just a scam? The only way to know is to review the research and see what we can discover.
Glucosamine Heart Disease Research
Researchers in the UK, conducted a study involving 466,000 men and women, age 40-69 years, who did not have heart disease symptoms. The people, who were followed from 2006 to 2016 completed questionnaires about their lifestyles, what they were eating and what supplements they were taking. So what did they find? Those who said they regularly took glucosamine supplements had:
- 15% lower risk of total heart disease events (heart attack etc)
- 9% -22% lower risk stroke and dying from heart disease
They further noted 12% less heart disease in those who never smoked and an 18% reduction in heart disease in former smokers. The reduction was even greater – 37% -in current smokers.
Does this mean smokers should be taking glucosamine supplements? No, because quitting smoking reduces heart disease risk even more than taking supplements.
These reductions in heart disease risk were independent of things like alcohol intake, smoking, diet, exercise, diabetes, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and the taking of other supplements -including fish oil.
In other words, glucosamine – by itself – seemed to reduce heart disease risk and death from heart disease.
In a previous investigation, researchers in Australia noted glucosamine supplements were associated with fewer heart attacks and angina (chest pain). Here, researchers looked at 266,000 people over age 45. Like the UK study, this was also a very large investigation.
Researchers in the US, looking at 77,000 people saw glucosamine supplements were associated with significant reductions in overall death as well as dying from cancer too. More specifically, they noted the supplement was associated with:
- 18% lower risk of death from heart disease
- 13% lower death from cancers
- 33% reduction in death from all causes
Here, the use of chondrotin supplements didn't seem to matter. The effect appeared greatest with glucocosamine alone.
Problems With The Research
The research summarized above is interesting but it's wise to remember none of them prove glucosamine reduces heart disease, heart attacks, cancer or strokes. Rather, the results so far, only suggest there is an association between taking this supplement and lower rates of disease. Correlation (association) does not necessary mean the supplement is related to reducing heart disease risk.
Another issue is that none of the studies gave us information about the type of glucosamine used. This supplement may appear in 3 different forms:
Which form reduces heart attacks the most? Do they all work the same? We don't know.
Another issue is how much glucosamine did people take? While we can't be certain, we can assume most were taking this supplement for arthritis. If that is the case, then odds are, they were taking about 1500 mg per day. This is the dosage thought to be effective for arthritis.
How Long Does It Take To Work?
None of the studies tell us how long someone would have to take the supplement for it to be effective against heart disease. The research tells us habitual use is associated with fewer heart attacks but how long is that? For example, is it one year or 10 years? For those who have heart disease, it's wise to remember this is not something that will work overnight.
Glucosamine vs. Chondroitin
Most supplements contain a combination of chondroitin and glucosamine. Do they work better together? With respect to helping heart disease, at least one study has noted chondroitin may not be needed.
As an aside, I don't recommend men take chondroitin sulfate supplements.
How Does It Work?
Several mechanisms of action have been proposed.
Studies usually show eating fewer refined carbs leads to less heart disease. Animal studies suggest glucosamine sulfate may mimic the effects of eating a low carbohydrate diet. When mice are given the supplement, the tend to live longer.
Another way may be by reducing inflammation. Too much cellular inflammation is thought to play a role in many diseases. At least one study has noted the supplement can reduce C reactive protein (CRP) a marker for cellular inflammation.
Some evidence hints glucosamine may have anti-inflammatory effects.
At this point, how it works is open to speculation.
Glucosamine Side Effects
This supplement has been around a long time and is expected to be safe in most people. Here is a list of things to consider if you take this product:
- Start with less than suggested for the first week
- Taking the supplement with food may reduce GI upset
- Stop taking at least 2 weeks before having surgery
- Speak to your doctor/pharmacist if you take any medicine, like blood thinners
- At least one study has noted an increased in pressure inside the eye. If you have glaucoma, talk to your doctor.
- If your are a diabetic, monitor your blood sugar. Some diabetics have told me glucosamine raised their glucose levels.
- If pregnant/breastfeeding, talk to your doctor/pharmacist first
Which Brands Do I like?
If this is a supplement you want to start taking, here are the brands I suggest taking a look at:
Here's a quick run down on heart disease research and this supplement.
|There's more than 1 study
|Studies don't “prove” it works
|Studies contain large numbers of people
|We don't know which version of the supplement works best
|The supplement is easy to find
|There may be some drug interactions
|It probably also helps arthritis
|We need a placebo controlled study to know for sure
Does Glucosamine Work?
When it comes to reducing the risk of heart attacks and heart disease, the research so far is intriguing but it will take more studies to know for sure if there is a genuine effect or if this is just a random fluke. Hopefully one day we will have a better handle on this. Until then, if you want to try this supplement, know it may take years before any effect occurs. Also remember exercise and eating healthy have far more proof than taking this supplement.