The Uses and Benefits of Chondroitin

Chondroitin is an endogenous substance that promotes the growth of articular cartilage and decreases its degradation. Today, we'll take a closer look at the uses and benefits of chondroitin.
The Uses and Benefits of Chondroitin

Last update: 06 August, 2021

The joints of the human body have a large number of structures and substances that allow them to maintain their stiffness and function properly. One of these substances is chondroitin, which is present around the cartilage cells. Do you want to know the uses and benefits of chondroitin?

If so, keep reading!

Chondroitin can be used as a supplement in the treatment of osteoarthritis. In fact, studies show that chondroitin relieves the pain that osteoarthritis causes in the knee and hip, having an even greater effect than that of acetaminophen. It can be consumed on its own or in combination with other compounds, such as glucosamine.

What is chondroitin?

Also known as chondroitin sulfate, it’s an endogenous substance that’s located in the articular cartilage, surrounding the cells, or dispersed in the matrix. The precise location makes it serve as a regulatory medium for multiple biological and physiological phenomena.

The structure of the compound varies, consisting of sugar molecules and some peptides, making it a complex carbohydrate. These structural variations mean that chondroitin can exert multiple functions, being especially useful in the treatment of osteoarthritis.

It’s marketed as a useful slow-acting drug in the symptomatological treatment of osteoarthritis. What’s more, it’s approved as a dietary supplement for the same condition in the United States. It’s usually extracted from the cartilage of certain animals, such as cows or sharks. However, scientists can also synthesize it in a laboratory.

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How does it work?

It’s important to remember that osteoarthritis is a pathology that generates joint pain and stiffness as a result of joint cartilage degeneration. Therefore, the treatment aims at preventing this degeneration and stimulating cartilage production, as well as improving the symptoms that are present.

Being a complex carbohydrate, chondroitin sulfate increases the absorption of water by the articular cartilage, which increases flexibility and improves mobility. At the same time, it’s also an inhibitor of enzymes that promote cartilage degeneration, decreasing the progression of the disease.

Multiple studies show that chondroitin has anti-inflammatory activity, so it’s useful in reducing the pain caused by osteoarthritis in the fingers, knee, and hip. This relief can also be seen in sore muscles due to various causes.

Chondroitin also promotes the synthesis of various proteoglycans and endogenous hyaluronic acid, which may promote the formation of new cartilage. In addition, it provides some structural strength and helps maintain joint integrity.

A digital image of a man with hip pain.
Human joints have many soft tissue components, including cartilage.

Benefits and Health Effects of Chondroitin

Osteoarticular diseases, such as arthritis and osteoarthritis, produce intense pain in the joints, making it difficult to move and perform daily activities. Most of these pathologies have no cure, so the approach must aim at controlling the symptoms.

In this sense, the use of chondroitin has shown multiple benefits in the state of health of people with osteoarthritis and other rheumatic diseases. Among the main benefits are the following.

Reduction of joint pain

One of the main benefits of this substance is its ability to reduce joint pain, especially at the knee. The effectiveness of chondroitin in reducing pain lies in its anti-inflammatory effect, as it prevents the synthesis of inflammation-stimulating factors, such as prostaglandins and proteoglycans.

Research has shown that it’s capable of reducing the intensity of the symptom by up to 10%. It’s important to note that it’s a slow-acting drug and doctors usually prescribe it together with other active ingredients to enhance its action.

At the same time, the same study cited shows that the decrease in pain can reach a maximum of 20% in some patients. Observations of the results take place for a maximum of 6 months.

Benefits of chondroitin: Decreased joint space reduction

Osteoarthritis generates a decrease in the cartilage of the affected joint, so an X-ray reveals a decrease in joint space. All joints must have a certain amount of joint space to function properly.

Chondroitin promotes cartilage formation by stimulating the synthesis of proteoglycans, hyaluronic acid, and collagen. Therefore, it’s possible to delay the decrease in joint space in patients with osteoarthritis, especially with prolonged use of the compound.

Improves quality of life

The intake of chondroitin sulfate helps to improve joint elasticity, thus decreasing morning stiffness. This fact helps to improve the range of joint mobility, which facilitates the performance of daily activities, improving the quality of life.

The compound can also promote the healing of joint and skin injuries through collagen synthesis. It’s important to remember that collagen is one of the main components of these tissues, so promoting it can accelerate the healing and scarring process.

Benefits of chondroitin: Usefulness in cataract surgery

Some eye drops contain chondroitin in combination with hyaluronate. This form of presentation is useful in facilitating cataract surgery. It can also help improve eye health and lower intraocular pressure after surgery.

However, some studies show that there are higher viscosity compounds with a higher success rate. In addition, experts aren’t aware of the effects of those solutions containing only chondroitin in their composition.

Possible side effects of chondroitin

All drugs on the market are prone to produce side effects in patients and chondroitin sulfate is no exception. However, oral intake has proven to be safe for up to 6 years. Most of the patients who underwent evaluation didn’t present any remarkable adverse symptoms.

The most frequent symptoms are mild abdominal pain and nausea. It’s also possible to present signs of other nature, although with a much lower incidence, among which the following stand out:

  • Abdominal distention
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Hair loss
  • Palpebral inflammation

At the same time, there’s some concern that chondroitin compounds of animal origin may be a vehicle for certain illnesses, such as mad cow disease. However, there have been no reports of cases of transmission of the disease through the compound.

Dosage and recommendations of chondroitin

Patients can take chondroitin orally in the form of capsules, tablets, and powders for suspension. At present, doctors don’t recommend any single recommended dose. However, the most common daily intake is between 800 and 2000 milligrams.

Patients can take the amount their doctor has recommended as a single dose or in 2 or 3 doses for the patient’s convenience. What’s more, they can take the dietary supplement with food to decrease the likelihood of developing gastrointestinal symptoms.

Experts recommend doses close to 2000 milligrams for those who present intense symptomatology. As for the rest of the patients, they may obtain beneficial results by ingesting lower doses.

An elderly woman experiencing joint pain in her hands.
Rheumatic pathologies are associated with joint pain that can lead to a reduction in the quality of life.

Can patients take glucosamine as a supplement?

Glucosamine is another compound present in the human body, specifically in the fluid surrounding the joints. Experts have studied its effectiveness in decreasing osteoarthritis pain for many years.

In this regard, it’s not surprising that chondroitin doctors sometimes recommend its use in combination with glucosamine to enhance the analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect of both. In fact, studies have shown that the combination reduces pain, stiffness, functional limitation, and complications after 6 months in painful osteoarthritis of the knee.

At the same time, research has also shown the effectiveness of combination therapy in preventing joint space reduction. In this regard, a 2015 study determined that there was a significant decrease in joint space narrowing after 2 years of use.

More studies are still necessary regarding the benefits of chondroitin

Despite all the existing evidence on the effectiveness of this substance, further studies on the action and benefits of chondroitin are still necessary. Many of the studies show contradictory results or no relevant changes when comparing its effect with other available drugs or with placebo.

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