Most athletes, and people in general, have probably heard about chondroitin- even if it was just for a moment.
This extremely popular supplement is very useful, especially if you suffer from specific joint conditions.
Let’s explore what exactly is chondroitin and how it can benefit you.
Chondroitin sulfate is the most abundant glycosaminoglycan found in cartilage. Glycosaminoglycans (referred to as GAGs) otherwise known as mucopolysaccharides, are long chain linear polysaccharides that consist of a series of repeating disaccharide units.
Chondroitin often occurs together with glucosamine[i] in supplements as the two possess a good synergy and boost the action of each other.
Animal cartilage is the only real dietary source of chondroitin, although it can be made in supplemental form in the lab as well.
Common forms include those from bovine cartilage and shark cartilage, although the use of shark has declined significantly in previous years due to the need for preservation of the species.
One of the mechanisms behind chondroitin’s actions involve the reduction of particular enzymatic activity which degrade collagen in joints. Other mechanisms include the fact that it has anti-inflammatory actions that can suppress joint damage.
Research on animals has found that chondroitin can prevent the breakdown of cartilage and can also stimulate repair mechanisms.
It may also maintain cartilage's elasticity and aid in its shock absorption properties since it can help enhance water retention.
There are several benefits of chondroitin which are either confirmed or pending the findings of more studies. The most noteworthy include:
Let’s look at each of these benefits in more detail.
By far, most of the studies done on chondroitin investigate its beneficial role on arthritis.
Study findings suggest taking chondroitin sulfate by mouth improved pain and function in some osteoarthritis patients when used for periods of time up to 6 months in length.
Though pain relief may be average at best, other research suggests that supplementing with chondroitin for two to three years might slow the progression of arthritis- a welcome addition if trying to live as comfortably as possible without the need for joint replacement.
To experience these benefits, chondroitin must be consumed by mouth.
Preparations formulates using the transdermal route (in the form of a cream) are not going to be effective as it is not well absorbed via that method.
Aromatase inhibitors have been used (or rather, abused) by athletes from various disciplines in an effort to “lean out”. Aromatase is the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen, the primary feminine hormone.
As you might see, many male athletes regard this as undesirable, and actively look for ways to suppress the production.
However, suppression of aromatase comes with a nasty side-effect; joint pain.
One of estrogen’s effects is joint protective, so remove the estrogen and you lose that benefit. This could be attributed to estrogen’s water retentive property that is essential to joint health.
In other cases, the drugs may need to be used to treat a real condition, such as cancer. SERMs (selective estrogen receptor modulators) may be helpful depending on specific individual circumstance.
Preliminary studies done using chondroitin eye drops, either with or without other lubricating agents may help deal with chronic dry eyes. This doesn’t mean that you should sprinkle some chondroitin powder into your eyes, NO! More studies definitely need to be conducted on this matter.
While there are a number of pharmaceuticals that exist for gastritis treatment, there is promise in the use of chondroitin with hyaluronic acid as a remedy for people looking to go the “natural” route.
This will not replace the need for medication in acute cases, but seeks to reduce dependency on the same.
It makes some sense that the anti-inflammatory properties of chondroitin might lend itself to the management of psoriasis, and early studies done have learned in that direction.
Consistent use of the supplement over a period of two to three months might be necessary before effects are obvious, but might be invaluable to people grappling with the effects of the disease.
It may be especially helpful in people suffering from psoriatic arthritis[iii] and unable to find decent remedies.
There is some amount of evidence that chondroitin can reduce the frequency of UTI’s in susceptible people, reduce the symptoms of cystitis and even modestly improve urinary incontinence.
This is far from the primary use of chondroitin, however, which most people use it for.
The usual daily dosage of chondroitin is in the range of 800-2000mg daily[iv], taken as a single or split dose.
It may take several weeks to months for benefit to become obvious, however, so patience and consistency is needed.
Chondroitin is generally considered harmless for most people and is safe for consumption. .
Some people have reported:
If you have any side effects, stop taking the supplement and see a doctor.
Allergic reactions are a real possibility as it is oftentimes made from shellfish. If you possess any such allergy to shellfish, you should avoid chondroitin.
It may interact with blood thinners or other painkillers and exacerbate your risk of bleeding, so be sure to discuss simultaneous use with your health care provider.
The lack of evidence about safety for children and pregnant or breastfeeding women prevents the use of chondroitin supplements in this section of the population as well.
Chondroitin can be purchased as a stand-alone supplement on Amazon.com. The one I recommend is NOW Chondroitin. If you want a more comprehensive joint supplement with chondroitin and other scientifically validated ingredients, I encourage you to look at EndurElite JointElite.
Chondroitin has been a staple in many athletes’ arsenal for years, owing to its primary benefits on the joints. Yes, it may not provide “knock it out of the park” pain relief, but in people dealing with chronic pain even a modest improvement is welcome.
One that which is clear is that chondroitin works well in tandem with other joint-friendly supplements such a glucosamine, hyaluronic acid and collagen to name a few.
It would be in your best interest to stack them together in order to experience all this combo has to offer.
About the author:
Matt Mosman (MS, CISSN, CSCS) is a research scientist, endurance athlete, and the founder and Chief Endurance Officer at EndurElite. Matt holds his B.S. in Exercise Science from Creighton University and his M.S. in Exercise Physiology from the University of California. Matt and his family reside in Spearfish South Dakota, where they enjoy running, mountain biking, camping, and all the outdoor adventures Spearfish has to offer.
[i] Clegg DO, Reda DJ, Harris CL, et al. Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and the two in combination for painful knee osteoarthritis. N Engl J Med. 2006;354(8):795-808. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa052771
[ii] Zeng C, Wei J, Li H, et al. Effectiveness and safety of Glucosamine, chondroitin, the two in combination, or celecoxib in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee. Sci Rep. 2015;5:16827. Published 2015 Nov 18. doi:10.1038/srep16827
[iii] Vergés J, Montell E, Herrero M, et al. Clinical and histopathological improvement of psoriasis with oral chondroitin sulfate: a serendipitous finding. Dermatol Online J. 2005;11(1):31. Published 2005 Mar 1.