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Chondroitin: food sources and health benefits

Siski Green / 15 March 2021

Chondroitin is a carbohydrate manufactured in the body and is one of the main components of cartilage. It draws fluid into the cartilage making it elastic and slows its breakdown. Its structure also gives cartilage much of its resistance to compression

Elastic band ball referencing cartilege elasticity
Chondroitin supplements provide the building blocks to improve elasticity

If you’ve looked for ways to ease joint pain or symptoms associated with arthritis you’ve likely come across chrondoitin before. It’s promoted as being an effective treatment for easing symptoms.

What is chrondoitin used for?

It’s usually used in conjunction with glucosamine, with the idea being that the combination helps relieve the symptoms of arthritis. It’s also touted as being useful against the symptoms of osteoporosis, glaucoma, heart disease and high cholesterol. There is little evidence that taking supplements is effective in easing symptoms from any of these illnesses.

What do we know about chrondoitin?

We’ve all got chrondoitin inside us, it’s a natural substance formed of glucose chains that is conentrated in joint cartilage. The chrondoitin you might buy in the form of a supplement, chrondoitin sulfate, is manufactured from animal byproducts.

What’s the best way to take chrondoitin?

This is a difficult question to answer since chrondoitin isn’t regulated in the same way as other medications. And since research hasn’t been able to show a clear benefit of taking a supplement, it’s even more difficult to recommend the best amount or method to ingest it. However, most patients with osteoarthritis take between 800 and 2000mg per day.

It is possible to receive injections containing chrondoitin, and to apply a cream containing chrondoitin, too. Results from these types of treatments are similar to those relating to taking it orally, with very little evidence showing they work.

You can also ingest chrondoitin via the cartilage of animals, eating the gristle, or cooking soup containing meat cuts with gristle and bones.

Does chrondoitin really work?

Most likely not in terms of rebuilding cartilage. Research has consistently failed to produce reliable and significant effects to suggest that taking the supplement helps protect or rebuild cartilage in joints. Taking chrondoitin in conjunction with glucosamine, however, has been shown to reduce inflammation and this, in turn, may help relieve symptoms. There is also some evidence that it might produce a mild benefit in improving pain and function when used for six months or more but since the evidence seems inconclusive as to whether there really is a benefit or not and how much, many medical practitioners do not advise in taking it long-term. Chrondoitin is, at best, ‘possibly effective.’

Where can I get chrondoitin?

Supplements with chrondoitin can be found at healthfood shops, online and in chemists too.

You can also ingest chrondoitin via meat products. Connective tissues are especially good for providing chrondoitin, so gristle which is the animal’s cartilage, is ideal. The concentration of chrondoitin will be lower, however, than if you take a supplement.

How long does chrondoitin take to work?

In studies looking at its efficacy, patients were followed for up to three years to assess results.

What are the side effects of taking chrondoitin?

Side effects are rare, but if you notice any differences in your digestion or other health issues, see your GP.

Are there any contraindications when taking chrondoitin?

If you’re taking blood thinners, have asthma, high blood pressure or cholesterol, prostate cancer or any disorder relating to blood clotting, see your GP first.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.