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Chondroitin Sulfate

Illustration

Chondroitin sulfate consists of repeating chains of molecules called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). Chondroitin sulfate is a major constituent of cartilage, providing structure, holding water and nutrients, and allowing other molecules to move through cartilage—an important property, as there is no blood supply to cartilage.

Where is it found?

The only significant food source of chondroitin sulfate is animal cartilage.

Chondroitin sulfate has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
3Stars

Osteoarthritis

2Stars

Wound healing (topical)

1Star

Atherosclerosis

Heart attack

High cholesterol

Kidney stones

Sprains and strains

Wound healing (oral)

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Who is likely to be deficient?

Because the body makes chondroitin, the possibility of a dietary deficiency remains uncertain. Nevertheless, chondroitin sulfate may be reduced in joint cartilage affected by osteoarthritis and possibly other forms of arthritis.

How much is usually taken?

For atherosclerosis, researchers have sometimes started therapy using very high amounts, such as 5 grams twice per day with meals, lowering the amount to 500 mg three times per day after a few months. Before taking such high amounts, people should consult a doctor. For osteoarthritis, a typical level is 400 mg three times per day. Oral chondroitin sulfate is rapidly absorbed in humans when it is dissolved in water prior to ingestion. Approximately 12% of chondroitin sulfate taken by mouth becomes available to the joint tissues from the blood.1

Are there any side effects or interactions?

Nausea may occur at intakes greater than 10 grams per day. No other adverse effects have been reported.

One doctor has raised a concern that chondroitin sulfate should not be used by men with prostate cancer. This concern is based upon two studies. In one, the concentration of chondroitin sulfate was found to be higher in cancerous prostate tissue as compared to normal prostate tissue.2 In the other study, it was shown that higher concentrations of chondroitin sulfate in the tissue surrounding a cancerous prostate tumor predict a higher rate of recurrence of the cancer after surgery.3 However, no studies to date have addressed the question of whether taking chondroitin sulfate supplements could promote the development of prostate cancer. Simply because a substance is present in or around cancerous tissue does not by itself suggest that that substance is causing the cancer. For example, calcium is a component of atherosclerotic plaques that harden the arteries; however, there is no evidence that taking calcium supplements causes atherosclerosis. To provide meaningful information, further studies would need to track the incidence of prostate cancer in men taking chondroitin supplements. Until then, most nutritionally-oriented doctors remain unconcerned about this issue.

It is not known whether taking glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate in combination is a more effective treatment for osteoarthritis than taking either one by itself.

At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with chondroitin sulfate.

References:

1. Ronca F, Palmieri L, Panicucci P, Ronca G. Anti-inflammatory activity of chondroitin sulfate. Osteoarthritis Cartilage 1998;6(Supplement A):14–21.

2. De Klerk DP, Lee DV, Human HJ. Glycosaminoglycans of human prostatic cancer. J Urol 1984;131:1008–12.

3. Ricciardelli C, Quinn DI, Raymond WA, et al. Elevated levels of peritumoral chondroitin sulfate are predictive of poor prognosis in patients treated by radical prostatectomy for early-stage prostate cancer. Cancer Res 1999;59:2324–8.

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