Glucosamine may reduce overall death rates as effectively as regular exercise
Working up a sweat has known benefits, with regular physical activity up to halving the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, to name a few conditions.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally-occurring substances found in cartilage. The two compounds are often combined in over-the-counter supplements that are marketed to ease joint pain or osteoarthritis.
After examining the supplement intake of more than 16,000 adults, scientists from West Virginia University found those who took a glucosamine-chondroitin supplement every day for at least 12 months were 39% less likely to die from any cause over the next eight years.
Results further suggested the daily pill cut the risk of heart disease deaths specifically by almost two-thirds (65%).
The scientists stressed the “encouraging” results are not an excuse to “skip the gym”, but added “the thought that taking a pill would also be beneficial is intriguing”.
Lead author Professor Dana King wondered what benefits glucosamine-chondroitin may have after discovering the combined supplement is taken by many amateur athletes.
“I’m in a local cyclists’ club and we go for rides on weekends,” he said.
“One day I asked the other cyclists if they took glucosamine and everyone did.
“I thought, ‘well, I wonder if this is really helpful?’ That's how I got curious about it.”
The scientists therefore analysed 16,686 adults, aged 40 or over, who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2010.
Of the participants, 658 had been taking glucosamine-chondroitin for at least a year.
The scientists then combined the supplement intake information with public death data from 2015.
Results – published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine – suggest the participants who took a combined glucosamine-chondroitin supplement every day for at least a year were 39% less likely to die over the study period.
They were also 65% less likely to die from heart disease, the number one killer in the UK and US.
The results remained true after the scientists adjusted for other factors that influence a person’s death risk at any one time, like age and smoking status.
The scientists claimed the promising results put a daily glucosamine-chondroitin supplement on par with the benefits of exercise.
“Once we took everything into account, the impact was pretty significant,” said Professor King.
Although unclear exactly how the supplement may extend life, the same anti-inflammatory properties that ease joint pain may also boost overall health.
“Glucosamine is known to inhibit inflammation to relieve pain, which is why so many people find it helpful for painful joints,” said Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director of Healthspan.
“It’s possible this reduced inflammation also protects against cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.”
While it all sounds promising, the scientists have stressed regular exercise remains important.
“Does this mean 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? That’s not what we suggest,” said Professor King.
“Keep exercising, but the thought that taking a pill would also be beneficial is intriguing.
“In my view, it’s important people know about this, so they can discuss the findings with their doctor and make an informed choice.