Glucosamine is a compound derived from amino acids that plays an important role in preserving joint health. Glucosamine seems to be able to help reduce the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis in your joints, possibly by helping to rebuild damaged cartilage and slow the progressive loss of joint space that occurs in the disease.
Many people find that glucosamine is helpful for other kinds of joint pain as well, but the primary focus of current research is on treating pain related to osteoarthritis, the progressive degeneration of the cushioning capabilities of the cartilage in your joints.
Here are the best glucosamine supplements available right now.
1. Kirkland Signature Glucosamine With MSM
Kirkland Signature is known for providing simple and efficient supplements that address your basic needs. This one is no exception.
The dosage of glucosamine in each tablet is solid, at 750 mg, and it has MSM, another popular joint supplement included in equal proportions.
The capsules are held together with perhaps more binders and fillers than the most stringent of purists might like, but this supplement is still a winner.
2. Schiff Glucosamine
Schiff’s glucosamine formulation delivers 1000 mg of glucosamine hydrochloride per tablet, along with 1.6 mg of hyaluronic acid, which is thought to assist with the cartilage regeneration properties of glucosamine.
The high dose is great, but purists won’t like the additives, emulsifiers, and coloring agents included in the capsule.
3. Vimerson Health Glucosamine Chondroitin Turmeric & MSM
This multi-ingredient joint supplement from Vimerson is popular because it delivers a balance of various ingredients that are thought to help with joint pain.
However, one downside of this diversity of ingredients is that the ability to deliver a high dosage of the main ingredient (glucosamine) is limited. Each tablet contains only 500 mg of glucosamine, so you’ll have to take multiple tablets to get enough to make a big difference in joint function.
4. Made in Utah Glucosamine Chondroitin Turmeric MSM
Made in Utah caters to people expecting a slightly higher quality of supplement with this joint support product.
It’s got a solid 500 mg of glucosamine per tablet, along with chondroitin, turmeric, and MSM (as the name suggests) plus a few less common extras. Boswellia extract, quercetin, and methionine are all thrown into the mix to increase the anti-inflammatory and pain relieving power of the supplement.
5. Zenwise Advanced Strength Joint Support
Zenwise makes a joint supplement that is among the best when it comes to all-around joint regeneration.
If it’s glucosamine specifically that you are looking for, it’s more middle of the road with 500 mg of that supplement per tablet.
In addition to the other typical joint supplement ingredients (MSM, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid) you’ll also find the herbal extracts boswellia and curcumin, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties.
6. Nutriflair Premium Glucosamine Chondroitin Turmeric MSM
As another multi-ingredient supplement focused on joint health, Nutriflair’s take on glucosamine is pretty good, with 500 mg of glucosamine per tablet, as well as the namesake extras and quercetin and methionine for good measure.
The lack of extra filler compound is appealing to people who want to keep the additives in their supplement to a minimum.
7. NOW Glucosamine
NOW Glucosamine delivers the “big three” you’ll see in most joint supplements: glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM. The doses are respectable, but not great.
The good news is that there aren’t any extraneous ingredients, binders, or coloring agents, which will make this supplement appeal to people who appreciate minimalist supplement design.
8. Doctor’s Best Glucosamine Chondroitin MSM
One serving does deliver 1500 mg of glucosamine, but you need to take four whole tablets to get that dosage. It’s an alright supplement if you are okay going through bottles pretty rapidly, but if your main focus is just glucosamine, you’ve got better options.
9. Vitabreeze Glucosamine Chondroitin MSM & Turmeric
While it’s incredibly popular, Vitabreeze’s take on the multi-ingredient joint support supplement will fall short for people looking for something that provides a large dose of glucosamine.
With under 400 mg of glucosamine per tablet, all the extras like MSM and chondroitin take up too much tablet space to allow a large dosage.
As with other low dose supplements, you can get around this by just taking more, but it does mean you’ll go through bottles a lot faster.
10. BlueBonnet Glucosamine Chondroitin Plus MSM
BlueBonnet is a company that has a stellar reputation for high quality and high purity supplements.
While the company is very clear about where the ingredients are sourced from, the actual glucosamine content per tablet is quite low, making it hard to recommend for anyone looking for a high dose of glucosamine.
Who should buy glucosamine?
Glucosamine is quite well-studied and is very safe, so it is a good supplement for anyone who wants extra insurance against joint damage, or anyone who already has joint pain from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or previous injuries to their joints.
Glucosamine can’t work miracles, but many people find that it substantially reduces joint pain, and clinical research backs up its potential to slow down objective markers of joint damage in progressive conditions like osteoarthritis.
Glucosamine’s safety profile is also a lot more attractive than some of the other remedies that people use to treat joint pain, like high doses of ibuprofen or naproxen (Advil and Aleve, respectively). Glucosamine might be slower to work, but it’s far easier on your system than non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
While this use case is not well-studied, the excellent safety profile of glucosamine means that it’s often worth a try for these kinds of problems too.
How we ranked
We looked for dosages and formulations that lined up well with scientific studies that had success using glucosamine—that meant supplements that make it easy to take what appears to be the optimal dosage for glucosamine, which is at least 1500 mg of glucosamine per day.
Unlike our rankings of general-purpose joint supplements, we put less emphasis on the inclusion of other potentially biologically active compounds like MSM or hyaluronic acid when evaluating the quality of a glucosamine supplement.
While additional ingredients were a small perk that boosted the scores of some glucosamine supplements in our rankings, our primary focus was dosage and purity.
We dropped supplements from consideration if they contained too much in the way of binders and fillers. Since glucosamine is already derived from animal products (shellfish, usually), it didn’t matter to our research team whether the supplement was delivered in a cellulose or gelatin capsule.
The top performers were products that effectively delivered a high dose of glucosamine while keeping extra ingredients to a minimum.
If you are looking for a glucosamine supplement that provides the closest approximation to the supplements that have been used in the most successful scientific research, you’ll find it in our rankings.
In many cases, joint pain is the result of irritation, inflammation, or degeneration of the cartilage surface inside your joints. Glucosamine appears to help fight this by encouraging your cartilage to absorb more water, keeping the cartilage hydrated.
Glucosamine may also help increase the synthesis of cartilage tissue. People have found glucosamine helpful in reducing joint pain (especially joint pain caused by arthritis) for a long time, but recently there has been more scientific evidence demonstrating the benefits of glucosamine.
Initial evidence from smaller scientific experiments on the utility of glucosamine at treating joint pain stretches back to the early 1980s (which is why glucosamine, along with chondroitin, is the dominant ingredient to most joint supplements).
One of the original studies, published in 1981 in the medical journal Pharmatherapeutica, tested the effects of a 400 mg glucosamine supplement over the course of a few weeks in a group of 30 people with arthritis (1).
The results were promising: the patients who received the glucosamine supplement recorded significant improvements in their pain levels.
Later research used larger groups of patients to test whether glucosamine could actually help treat or even prevent osteoarthritis.
Half the subjects were given a 1500 mg glucosamine sulfate supplement, while the other half were given a placebo and acted as a control group. All of the subjects were followed for three years, and the degree to which their osteoarthritis progressed was evaluated by x-rays.
At the study’s conclusion, the authors found that the group given the glucosamine supplement had no joint space narrowing, while there was a statistically significant decrease in joint space in the control group.
This indicated that the glucosamine was effective at slowing (or perhaps even stopping) the progression of osteoarthritis in the knee.
The actual mechanism of action of glucosamine appears to be related to its ability to encourage cartilage to maintain its health. This happens either through increasing its water retention or actually synthesizing new cartilage tissue.
They found that the glucosamine increased the synthesis of a type of protein called proteoglycan, which make up a significant amount of the mass in cartilage.
The increase in production of this protein lasted for approximately 12 days following exposure to glucosamine. This provides a plausible mechanism for how glucosamine might reduce the loss of joint space, slowing the progression of osteoarthritis.
While decreasing the destruction of the joint space that happens in osteoarthritis is important, reducing pain levels is the ultimate goal, so researchers turned their attention to larger trials that actually evaluated patient outcomes. In this case, the connection between glucosamine and positive outcomes is less clear.
A paper published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases conducted a large, placebo-controlled trial of over 600 subjects that compared glucosamine to a placebo in patients with osteoarthritis over the course of two years (4).
The study found similar results to the previous work on joint space narrowing: the glucosamine slowed the rate at which the joint space narrows in people with osteoarthritis.
However, it failed to find a statistically significant difference in pain outcomes: the people who got the placebo reported the same amount of pain improvement as the people who took the glucosamine supplement.
Not all studies on the pain relief benefit have been negative. A large meta-analysis performed by Timothy E. McAlindon, Michael P. LaValley, and Juan P. Gulin at Boston University Medical School’s Arthritis Center pooled the results of many different studies on the use of glucosamine as a treatment in osteoarthritis (5).
After combining the results of fifteen different studies, the authors found that glucosamine did have a significant effect on both pain levels and functional outcome (i.e. how well you are able to go about your daily activities without problems).
This is likely the result of a desire by scientists to focus their efforts with glucosamine on the biggest potential target–osteoarthritis.
While it may well be helpful at other issues related to the cartilage of your joints, realize that this is an area where research doesn’t provide much guidance.
Glucosamine could help reduce pain from old injuries. Even if you are lucky enough not to get osteoarthritis as you get older, it’s common for past injuries to your foot, ankle, or knee to crop up again and cause problems.
All of the participants in the study had regular knee pain; half of the participants were assigned to take a placebo, while the other half were assigned to take the glucosamine supplement. When the researchers analyzed the results, they found significant improvements in knee pain in the glucosamine group compared to the placebo group.
Moreover, most of the improvements attributable to the glucosamine appeared within the first eight weeks, which indicates that you’ll know whether glucosamine will work for an old injury after about two months of use.
Glucosamine might work for joint pain, but it is not helpful for low back pain. Given that cartilage in your joints is more or less structurally the same as the cartilage between the vertebrae of your back, it’s a worthwhile question to ask whether glucosamine could help with low back pain as well as joint pain.
A randomized controlled trial published in 2010 in the Journal of the American Medical Association was conducted to answer this question (7).
The study recruited 250 patients at a hospital in Norway that had chronic low back pain and degenerative osteoarthritis of the lower back. The patients were randomly assigned to either a placebo or a 1500 mg glucosamine supplement for a period of one year.
While both groups experienced slight improvements in their back pain over the course of the year, there were no significant differences between the groups, indicating that glucosamine is not helpful for low back pain in the same way that it might be for joint pain.
One silver lining to this study was that it confirmed the safety of glucosamine, even when taken for long periods—there was no significant difference in side effects between the placebo group and the glucosamine group during the year-long follow-up.
Because glucosamine has been studied in many large clinical trials for several decades, there have been many opportunities to detect any potential side effects.
Clinical trials have found that glucosamine is a very safe and well-tolerated supplement; the rate of reported side effects is not significantly different than the “side effects” reported from a placebo.
Clinical trials that have tested the efficacy of glucosamine have used dosages of anywhere from 400 to 1500 mg of glucosamine per day.
So far, there have been no direct comparative trials to determine an optimal dosage, but one study does suggest a target of 1500 mg per day.
An experiment done by researchers in Italy tested single doses of glucosamine ranging from 750 to 3000 mg of glucosamine on a group of volunteers (8).
The researchers tracked levels of glucosamine in the blood of the volunteers over the next 48 hours. They found that increasing doses led to predictable increases in blood glucosamine levels, up until 1500 mg.
At higher doses, the availability of glucosamine appears to be limited: your body can’t absorb as much of the supplement beyond this dose.
So, while plenty of effective studies have used doses of 500 mg per day, the best way to deliver glucosamine into your bloodstream might be a dose of 1500 mg per day.
Q: Why would you take glucosamine?
While it’s not as versatile and useful for other injuries that might be linked to cartilage, like low back pain, glucosamine is a safe and effective way to improve a wide variety of joint-related problems.
Q: Is glucosamine good for your joints?
A: Glucosamine has been studied heavily as a way to improve joint health and slow or even potentially reverse the degenerative progress of osteoarthritis, where cartilage is progressively damaged and inflamed over time, leading to pain and disability.
While glucosamine (or any other treatment for arthritis, for that matter) can’t work miracles, they do appear to be beneficial at cutting down on some of the pain and limitations to your normal daily routine that can be caused by joint damage and disease–particularly from osteoarthritis.
Q: Do any joint supplements really work?
A: The best scientific research, while sometimes conflicting, tends to support a small but significant benefit associated with taking joint supplements based on glucosamine, chondroitin, and sometimes MSM as well.
Quercetin is another supplement for joint health that has some research supporting it, as does fish oil. In both of these cases, these joint supplement ingredients are thought to exert antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, cutting down on the cellular-level aggravation in the joint.
While a range of ingredients are present in a general-purpose joint supplement, when it comes to fighting joint pain from arthritis and acute or long-term joint injuries, glucosamine has the strongest evidence in favor of its use.
Q: Is glucosamine in food?
A: Glucosamine is not found in any foods in any significant amount. It’s a naturally-occurring compound, but you couldn’t get a dose anywhere near what’s used in clinical supplementation studies even in a very healthy diet.
The only way to get glucosamine in any significant amount is to use a glucosamine supplement or a joint supplement that includes glucosamine as one of its primary constituents.
Q: Is there anyone who should not take glucosamine?
A: Glucosamine is extremely safe; even in large clinical studies, any “side effects” that occur in the glucosamine groups are just as common in the patients who are receiving the placebo supplement.
However, since glucosamine is derived from shellfish, you should not take glucosamine if you know you have a shellfish allergy. It’s likely that glucosamine will contain traces of the proteins in shellfish that trigger your allergic reaction, so you should avoid taking it.
Q: Is glucosamine useful alongside MSM?
However, the precise dosage ratio, and the exact advantage conferred by one of these supplements alone versus both in combination are finer points of supplementation that have not yet been elucidated by scientific research.
Q: What is glucosamine chondroitin?
A: Glucosamine chondroitin is a term applied to joint supplements that include both glucosamine and chondroitin, which is a chemically distinct molecule.
Chondroitin is a direct structural component of cartilage, and is thought to help boost the synthesis of new cartilage in damaged joints. Glucosamine, of course, also helps support joint health, and most multi-ingredient joint supplements bank on both glucosamine and chondroitin being more effective in combination than alone.
It’s important to recognize, though, that “glucosamine chondroitin” is a marketing term: you need to check your joint supplement to see if both glucosamine and chondroitin are delivered at effective doses if you want to reap the possible benefits of joint supplements that include both of these ingredients.
Q: How does glucosamine work?
A: Despite its popularity, the precise mechanism by which glucosamine improves joint function remains somewhat murky.
Glucosamine is a precursor to a type of compound called glycosaminoglycan, which in turn is used both as a building block for cartilage, and as a lubricant and shock absorber inside joints. It is thought that boosting your body’s supply of glucosamine can upregulate the synthesis of glycosaminoglycan, which in turn would increase cartilage synthesis or increase the supply of lubricating and shock-absorbing fluid in the joint space.
These mechanisms, though, are mostly theoretical, and we still don’t have a step-by-step understanding of how this process unfolds inside the body.
Q: How long does it take for glucosamine to work?
A: Most research on the use of glucosamine is at least a few months in length, so you should at minimum give glucosamine a few months to see if it works.
One study on using glucosamine to treat long-term knee pain explicitly examined the time-course of glucosamine’s effects and found that most of the benefits attributable to glucosamine had appeared after eight weeks of use (9).
So, if you’ve only been using glucosamine for a couple of weeks, you may not have been using it long enough to get the full effect of the supplement.
Q: What is the best time to take glucosamine?
A: The timing of when you take glucosamine is not particularly important, because it is fairly long-lasting in your body.
However, you do want to take it every single day at approximately the same time to get optimal effects. That is what the pharmacological research supports, and is also the protocol used by the most successful research studies on using glucosamine to treat joint pain from arthritis.
Q: How long does glucosamine stay in your system?
A: Scientific research has estimated the elimination half-life of glucosamine at about 15 hours, meaning that after taking a full dose of glucosamine, half of it has been eliminated from your body 15 hours later (10).
This means that after you stop taking glucosamine, it will take a few days for it to get totally eliminated from your system. Thanks to this relatively long elimination half life, you don’t have to take glucosamine any more often than once every day.
Q: What is glucosamine made from?
A: Glucosamine is usually made by taking shells from shellfish (like clams or oysters) and breaking down the molecules that make up their shells. It’s an easy, inexpensive, and effective way to acquire a large amount of glucosamine.
This process is also why it is recommended to take glucosamine if you have a shellfish allergy—it’s likely that the allergens present in shellfish are also present in glucosamine in trace amounts.
Glucosamine is a rare supplement whose efficacy has been tested by several large clinical trials and does appear to have a significant effect.
Glucosamine appears to be most effective at preventing the loss of cartilage in your joints that comes from osteoarthritis, and also seems to be effective in many (but not all) studies examining pain and day-to-day function.
This indicates that glucosamine is best used early on to slow down the progression of arthritis, when your pain is still mild.
Glucosamine is very well-tolerated, meaning that you don’t need to worry about side effects, and the optimal dosage for best results appears to be around 1500 mg per day.