There is no doubt that human joints are outstanding structures that allow us the freedom of movement. It is common wisdom that people only pay attention to their joints once they start hurting. This article explores the science behind joint health and, more importantly, how you can pro-actively prevent cartilage damage.
The importance of cartilage for joint health
The cartilage is a resistant and flexible tissue that covers the surface of the joints, allowing bones to rub against each other without causing pain. Its main purpose is to serve as a shock absorber, thus reducing friction between bones and preventing any wear and tear.
There is, however, a small issue with cartilage. Unlike other types of tissue, cartilage doesn’t have its own blood vessels which mean it doesn’t have the ability to recover by itself.
How then does the body repair damaged cartilage?
Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are the long polysaccharide molecules in charge of cartilage repair. GAGs attract water into the extracellular matrix, supporting joint lubrication. Studies show that GAGs enhance synovial fluid properties (the lubrication fluid of the joints).
As cartilage doesn’t have its own blood supply, all nutrients needed for healing, including oxygen, are supplied to the cartilage cells primarily from the synovial fluid (1).
What’s the role of glucosamine in all this process?
The body produces glycosaminoglycans from glucosamine which in turn is produced from glucose and glutamine. The endogenous production of glucosamine is limited and may not be enough to allow for a true healing. This may be the case if you have been injured or feeling pain for quite a while.
Furthermore, people who regularly engage in physical activities that put pressure on the joints (such as weight training, powerlifting, crossfit and tennis) are more prone to suffer from out worn cartilage.”
As if this wasn’t enough, glucosamine synthesis also decreases with aging. If you do not supply your body the nutrients needed to heal properly, you can be putting yourself at risk. According to several medical studies, the loss of glycosaminoglycan precedes osteoarthritis.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin – The dynamic duo of joint health
Glucosamine is a naturally occurring nutrient in the body and a major component of cartilage. Several scientific studies showed its ability to regenerate cartilage (2), (3), decrease joint pain (4), (5) and enhance synovial fluid properties (6).
Many glucosamine supplements are paired with chondroitin. Chondroitin is one class of glycosaminoglycans that plays an important role in cartilage repair and lubrication. Scientific studies show glucosamine and chondroitin combo to be effective in the treatment of joint pain and osteoarthritis (7), (8).
Healthy joints are absolutely essential for proper mobility in your body. If you want to be able to optimise your exercise, make sure you give your joints the attention they need. Since cartilage doesn’t possess the ability to self-repair, you should develop a proactive mind-set.
Swelling, stiffness, decreased range of movement and joint pain are all symptoms of damaged cartilage. Don’t wait for the symptoms to show up to start worrying about joint health. Prevention is the key.
(1) – Arthritis Rheum. 2004 Dec;50(12):3915-24
(2) – Eur Radiol. 2009 Jun;19(6):1512-8
(3) – Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2010 Jan;18(1):34-40
(4) – Arthritis Rheum. 2007 Feb;56(2):555-67
(5) – Lancet. 2001 Jan 27;357(9252):251-6
(6) – Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2008 Sep;16(9):973-9
(7) – Int J Rheumatol. 2011: 969012
(8) – J Orthop Traumatol. 2008 Jun;9(2):81-7
Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.