What is Chondroitin?
Chondroitin, sometimes also referred to as chondroitin sulphate, is a structural component of cartilage, and has a role in providing joint mobility and flexibility. Chemically, it is a long chain of sugar molecules joined together with sulphur. Along with glucosamine, chondroitin is one of the best known treatments for joint disease and for the maintenance of joint health. So if you suffer from joint pain as a result of high intensity and impact exercise, then chondroitin may help.
Where Does Chondroitin Come From?
Chondroitin naturally occurs in the cartilage of many animals. Commercially, it can be obtained from the cartilage of cattle, pigs, poultry, fish, and even sharks.
Chondroitin Benefits for Joints & Osteoarthritis
Chondroitin is known for its ability to treat osteoarthritis. This is a disease in which the cartilage and subchondral bone slowly degrade over time. This may be caused by a number of reasons such as repeated stress from intensive exercise. Symptoms include joint immobility, stiffness, and pain. There are a number of drugs and painkillers that can be used to treat osteoarthritis, such as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories drugs), but these effects are short lived and are sometimes associated with serious side effects. However, chondroitin is extremely safe and there is evidence to justify its usage to treat osteoarthritis and joint pain.
A study compared the effects of chondroitin to that of an NSAID, and found that although the NSAID was more rapidly acting, its effects wore off after ceasing treatment, while the benefits of chondroitin lasted for up to three months after the end of treatment (Morreale et al, 1996). It is even thought that chondroitin and glucosamine are able to provide a degree of structural repair (Jordan et al, 2003), as opposed to simply masking the pain. Likewise, another study supported these findings, and showed that not only was chondroitin effective compared to a placebo, but its effects continued for a month after stopping supplementation (Mazieres, 2001). A large scale American government funded study stated that chondroitin appeared to be more effective when combined with glucosamine, and for people experiencing mild to severe joint pain (NCCAM & NIH, 2008).
Chondroitin Negatives and Safety
One potential negative in regards to the use of chondroitin is that it is often obtained from animal sources. Therefore, chondroitin products are unsuitable for vegetarians and those with specific allergies. Attempts to synthesise chondroitin from bacteria have been scrapped by a major chemical supplies company due to high cost. To this writer's knowledge, there is not yet a vegetarian source of chondroitin. Another potential downside to chondroitin use is its slow method of action. It may take months before affects are noticeable.
Chondroitin is extremely safe. Although some conflicting evidence can be found in regards to the efficacy of chondroitin, it is often recommended by health care professionals because of its high degree of safety, especially compared to that of NSAIDs and other drugs. In fact, compared to all other treatments for osteoarthritis, chondroitin and glucosamine are considered to be the safest (Jordan et al, 2003). The authors of a safety study state that doses commonly used in clinical studies (1200 mg/day) have been completely free from adverse effects (Hathcock & Shao, 2007).
Recommended Doses and Ingredient Timing
The recommended dosage for chondroitin is 800 to 1200 mg/day, as these have been the concentrations used in clinical trials. These can be taken as a one off concentrated dose, or broken up into three smaller doses spread throughout the day. Chondroitin may be taken with food.
Chondroitin can be purchased as a stand-alone supplement in tablet, capsule, or powder form. However, it is more commonly found as part of blend together with glucosamine, or in other joint support supplements.
Hathcock & Shao (2007), Risk assessment for glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 47: 78–83
Jordan et al (2003), EULAR Recommendations 2003: an evidence based approach to the management of knee osteoarthritis: Report of a Task Force of the Standing Committee for International Clinical Studies Including Therapeutic Trials (ESCISIT). Ann Rheum Dis, 62: 1145-1155
Morreale (1996), Comparison of the antiinflammatory efficacy of chondroitin sulphate and diclofenac sodium in patients with knee osteoarthritis. J Rheumatol, 23: 1385-1391
Mazieres (2001), Chondroitin sulphate in osteoarthritis of the knee: a prospective, double blind, placebo-controlled multicenter clinical study. J Rheumatol, 28: 173-181
NCCAM & NIH (2008), The NIH Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT). J Pain Palliat Care Pharmacother, 22: 39-43