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Table of Contents > Articles > Chondroitin Sulfate May Be Beneficial ...
Chondroitin Sulfate May Be Beneficial for Those with Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is one of the leading causes of disability in Americans over the age of 15. This joint condition is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage, the substance that cushions and protects the ends of bones. It commonly affects joints in the hands, feet, knees, and hips. When cartilage is worn away, the bones rub against each other, causing pain, tenderness, swelling, and limited movement.

There are several basic principles to living with osteoarthritis: try to maintain a healthy weight (to reduce pressure on joints); add low-impact exercises, like swimming or bicycling, to your life (these are easy on the joints and can tone the muscles surrounding them); and find ways to control your pain. (Note: complementary and alternative medicine may offer a forth tenet: rebuild cartilage with supplements such as glucosamine sulfate.) While very painful cases of osteoarthritis may require surgery, more mild conditions can often be managed with pain-reducing medications. Conventional medications help relieve symptoms but may also have undesirable side effects. One natural remedy, chondroitin sulfate, offers a promising alternative. Studies have shown it to be beneficial in the pain management of osteoarthritis but with fewer side effects than conventional medications.

Chondroitin sulfate occurs naturally in the body's joint tissue. It appears to help cartilage absorb shock and keep it from breaking down. Chondroitin sulfate supplements are made from the cartilage of animals. Some complementary and alternative health practitioners have dismissed them since they are not as well absorbed by the body as glucosamine sulfate supplements. However, some researchers recently reviewed studies that tested the effects of chondroitin sulfate on osteoarthritis of the knee and hip. The trials analyzed included 372 people taking chondroitin sulfate for osteoarthritis. In all seven studies reviewed, chondroitin sulfate reduced osteoarthritis symptoms and the use of pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Although the total number of people in these studies is not large, the consistency of the findings is worth noting.

If you choose to take chondroitin sulfate, the recommended daily dosage is from 800 to 1,600 milligrams. The dosage right for you depends on your weight. If you weigh less than 120 pounds, opt for the lower amounts. If you weigh more than 200 pounds, take the higher levels. Benefits usually take 4 weeks to appear. Although less common than in NSAIDs, you may have some stomach upset as a side effect of this supplement. Since the FDA does not currently regulate dietary supplements, look for a standardized product from a company you trust.Note: some experts recommend that chondroitin sulfate should only be taken in combination with glucosamine sulfate (1,000 to 2,000 milligrams per day).

The bottom line: although more studies are called for, chondroitin sulfate appears to reduce osteoarthritis pain—and since it has not been associated with severe side effects, it should be safe to try. As always, be sure to talk with your physician or pharmacist since some supplements should not be taken if you have certain medical conditions or are taking particular prescription medications.


Glucosamine sulfate: A substance produced by the body that helps to reduce pain, make new cartilage, and repair and protect the body's existing cartilage. Glucosamine sulfate supplements are made from crab shells.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): A large class of drugs commonly used to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and lower fevers. Side effects may include stomach upset and intestinal bleeding. Ibuprofen is a common NSAID.


Das AK, Hammad T, Eitel J. Efficacy of a new class of agents (glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate) in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 1999 Annual Meeting. February 6, 1999.

Friedrich, MJ. Steps toward understanding, alleviating osteoarthritis will help aging population. JAMA Web site. Accessed at on January 17, 2000.

Integrative Medicine Access: Professional Reference to Conditions, Herbs & Supplements. Newton, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.

Leeb BF, Schweitzer H, Montag K, Smolen JS. A metaanalysis of chondroitin sulfate in the treatment of osteoarthritis. J Rheumatol. 2000;27(1):205-211.

Maleskey G. Nature's Medicines. Rodale Press; 1999.

Review Date: May 2000
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.


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