Chondroitin supplements contain chondroitin sulfate, a compound that occurs naturally in the body. Chondroitin sulfate is a fundamental building block of cartilage, the connective tissue that makes smooth and painless joint function possible. Chondroitin supplements often contain glucosamine, a similar substance also found in cartilage. Scientific research suggests that glucosamine and chondroitin supplements may be of benefit in the treatment of osteoarthritis.
The chondroitin sulfate molecule binds with elastin and collagen to form cartilage in the joints. Cartilage is a tough but flexible connective tissue that acts as a cushion in all of the body's joints. With age, the body produces less chondroitin, and the body's cartilage can begin to degenerate. When degeneration becomes severe, the condition is known as osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis typically occurs when cartilage degeneration becomes so severe that the joints are no longer protected from shock. Friction between the bones can lead to painful joint inflammation. Research suggests that chondroitin supplements may make up for the body's reduced ability to produce chondroitin sulfate. Some scientific findings suggest that chondroitin supplementation can relieve the pain of osteoarthritis, relieve stiffness and swelling in affected joints and enhance joint function for as long as three months after supplementation ends. Multiple studies into the osteoarthritis benefits of chondroitin have returned mixed results, with many studies showing no measurable benefits in the treatment of osteoarthritis.
Chondroitin supplements are usually manufactured from bovine and shark cartilage. The body produces its own chondroitin, but dietary sources are rare. Chondroitin sulfate supplements are usually available in tablet or capsule form. Supplements commonly contain glucosamine and may also contain manganese, a trace mineral needed for healthy bones. Adults normally are recommended to take either 400 mg of chondroitin three times daily or 600 mg twice daily.
Since chondroitin supplements are usually made from beef or shark byproducts, they may not be suitable for vegans and vegetarians. Chondroitin supplements manufactured synthetically or from algae may be more suitable for those who don't wish to consume animal byproducts.
Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements may interact with anticoagulant medications. Those who take heparin or other anticoagulant drugs are advised to consult a physician before taking chondroitin. Chondroitin sulfate may also enhance the blood-thinning properties inherent in vitamin E and fish oil supplements, which can lead to dangerous side effects in those taking pharmaceutical doses of these supplements. Medical supervision is advised when combining a dietary chondroitin supplement with fish oil or vitamin E.