A Look into the Supplement Aisle: Glucosamine & Chondroitin

There are over 600,000 total knee replacements performed each year in the United States.  That’s about 1,644 surgeries EVERY DAY.  Over the years of listening to clients and friends talk about their aches and ailments, knee pain is usually right at the top of the list.  Whether it hurts to squat, lunge, run, or simply walk, joint pain gets in the way of innate and optimal movement patterns.

What’s the solution to keep our knees from being sliced open and re-worked?  How can we keep arthritis under control as we age?

According to the National Health Interview Survey, over 6 million American adults turn to the supplement combo, Glucosamine and Chondroitin.  The supplements are typically made from parts of shellfish, bone marrow, and shark or cow cartilage.  The cartilage between our knees needs to be strong and have even fluid to help maintain flexibility; glucosamine helps build the connective tissue and chondroitin helps keep the fluid flowing.

Together, these supplements have claimed to reduce pain and inflammation in the knee joints which can lead to less replacement surgeries.

But how often do we hear of someone scheduling a knee replacement 10 years in advanced?  Instead of just popping a few pills to relieve the pain, why not correct what’s actually bothering it?  Osteoarthritic pain is considered chronic (hence it’s other name, degenerative joint disease) and affects over 27 million Americans.  Can some shellfish and cow cartilage be the answer to lowering so many people’s chronic knee pain?

It’s worth considering other options, ones that can actually prevent and protect damage to our knee joints.  While the choices may not be as convenient as throwing back a few pills every day, they do help address the whole body, which ultimately is affected when there is chronic pain and inflammation.

Eat more greens and less creams

Americans have a phobia against vegetables; our palette has become accustomed to factory-flavored foods that are unfamiliar to our system.  We have become foreigners to real food, the ones without lengthy labels or unreadable ingredients.  What happens when these fake and foreign substances attack our body?

We put up bowl of vegetable saladsa guard, attempting to protect and fight off what our system doesn’t recognize.  We become inflamed.

Imagine the consistency of milk, yogurt, cheese, creamer… any dairy.  It’s thicker, creamy, and can become elastic when heated up.  That’s pretty much what happens when dairy enters the digestive fire that breaks down our food; our fluids dampen and thicken (think mucus), don’t move as smoothly, and can get sticky.  A very common food group that contributes to joint inflammation is dairy.  There are many alternatives to almost every dairy product – almond milk, cashew cheese, and coconut yogurt are normal sightings at your local grocery store.

Natural plant remedies

As a student of Traditional Chinese Medicine, our pharmacopeia contains herbs that help decrease inflammation (excess dampness and heat/cold),  increase strength, and lower pain, specifically for the knees.  A few plants that are used are: eucommia bark (Du Zhong), lavage root (Chuan Xiong), cyathula root (Chuan Niu Xi), and the pubescent angelica root (Du Huo).  Image result for du zhong"

Chinese medicine works off of an individual’s set of symptoms that are specific to just them; each patient has a different history of why their knees hurt, so it is important to talk to a qualified Chinese Herbalist (check their credentials for an MSOM or DOM) for proper prescription.

Better movements

As the song goes, “Your knee bone connected from your leg bone.  Your leg bone connected from your ankle bone”, etc. reminds us that where there is an area of pain, the origin may be at a different spot.  How many times do we work on correcting our ankles and feet?  The majority of our shoes don’t give us the chance to use our toes and feet the way they were supposed to.  Maybe your knee pain is connected to weak ankles, collapsed or tight arches in the feet.

Image result for picture of bad posture from shoes

Shoes often have a higher heel than toe which naturally make us stand shifted forward, towards our toes. 

Our heels/achilles become weaker and shorter (always contracted), our knees shift forward to compensate for our ankle weakness, our hips rotate back to counterbalance the lack of weight on our heels, and our shoulders round forward so we don’t tip backwards.

Every step we take in non-optimal shoes makes a movement-pattern-memory where our muscles continually adapt.  Can you see how it’s important not only to move more but to move well?

Time to change

If you have been curious about experiencing the benefits of glucosamine and chondroitin, it may be an option to consider; however, supplements are not a solution to chronic pain.  Other lifestyle changes should always be considered to help get to the core of the issue of inflammation; always ask why you are having knee pain.  Give your body time to adapt to changes.  Our body is a large ‘meat suit’ that has many layers of protection… we must be patient with while we begin to shift our habits to better our being.


As always, consult your doctor with changes you wish to make as medications can alter the effects of supplements.