When stiff knees or other joints make it difficult to keep up with the regular pace of life, many people turn to joint health supplements like glucosamine to nourish their joints and help them stay active. But as with almost every other category of supplements, joint products like glucosamine come in a variety of types and forms. Before we jump into the different types of glucosamine, let’s do a quick refresher on what glucosamine is and how it helps support joint health.
What is Glucosamine?
Glucosamine is a naturally-occurring compound found in your body. One of its roles in the body is to help keep cartilage healthy. Cartilage is one of the main structures that cushions your bones where they meet up at the different joints throughout your body.1
As you age, however, cartilage can weaken and break down, which can impact how joints function and feel.2 Joint health concerns related to aging affect millions of adults in the United States alone.2 And clinical evidence suggests certain glucosamine supplements may help comfort joints and slow the effects of aging on cartilage.1
Different Types of Glucosamine
There are three common types of glucosamine found in various dietary supplements—glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride (HCL) and N-acetyl-glucosamine (NAG).1 Glucosamine sulfate is the type used most often in clinical research, and it is the naturally occurring form found in the human body.1
- Glucosamine sulfate
Glucosamine sulfate is glucosamine bound to sulfur. Most researchers have focused on this form glucosamine in their studies. For joint health—especially of the knee—most research shows glucosamine sulfate supplementation supports joint health, and it may slow the natural breakdown of joint cushioning over extended periods of time.1 Glucosamine sulfate is almost always derived from shellfish, such as shrimp and crab, so be cautious if you have shellfish allergies and choose a glucosamine supplement made without shellfish instead.
- Glucosamine hydrochloride (HCL)
Glucosamine hydrochloride is glucosamine bound with chloride molecules. Unlike glucosamine sulfate, glucosamine hydrochloride is often manufactured from sources other than shellfish.3 But be sure to read the product label to check ingredients and warnings. While the lion's share of the research in glucosamine was done with glucosamine sulfate, there is some research to show glucosamine hydrochloride does provide similar benefits for joint health, and this form may be an alternative for vegetarians, vegans and those looking for non-shellfish sources.3
- N-acetyl-glucosamine (NAG)
Instead of being bound to sulfur or chloride molecules like the types of glucosamine above, N-acetyl glucosamine is a unique compound made up of glucosamine and acetic acid. Acetic acid is a larger and more complex molecule than sulfur or chloride.4 Like other forms of glucosamine, it is taken to help support joint tissue, but n-acetyl-glucosamine is also used as an anti-aging ingredient for skin, and it may provide some support for digestive health.4,5
Glucosamine Combination Formulas
Glucosamine is often found in combination formulas for joint health along with ingredients that work together to nourish joint tissues and promote mobility. Glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM are popular joint-health nutrients, but you’ll also find joint-supporting formulas featuring ingredients like chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, collagen and shark cartilage.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Like glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate is a natural component of cartilage.6 It’s a complex carbohydrate that helps your cartilage retain water.6 When paired with glucosamine in combination supplements, the two work to support both the cushioning of your joints, as well as the lubrication and mobility of your joints.
Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSM
While glucosamine and chondroitin work synergistically to support the cartilage structure and cushioning function of your joints, MSM (methylsulfonylmethane)—a highly bioavailable form of sulfur—promotes healthy connective tissues like tendons, ligaments and other important joint tissues.7 It also works as an antioxidant to help protect tissue cells.7 Many see this three-in-one combination formula as an option for complete joint nourishment.
Your joints depend on lubrication to work properly and comfortably. Your body uses a substance known as synovial fluid to keep your joint tissue surfaces lubricated. This fluid reduces friction to keep joints gliding smoothly.8 A major component of this synovial fluid is hyaluronic acid, which plays a key role in joint lubrication by providing viscosity to synovial fluid.8 For this reason, hyaluronic acid has become a popular ingredient in many supplements taken to promote joint lubrication, as well as in combination formulas for joint health.
Collagen is a protein component of cartilage, bone and other tissues.9 Collagen is taken to support mobility and overall health, and some forms are taken to benefit hair, skin, and nails.9
What’s the Best Form of Glucosamine?
Glucosamine supplements are available in several forms. Glucosamine tablets and pills are common, but it is also available in liquid suspensions, powders and topical creams. Ultimately, choosing which type of glucosamine and in what form (capsule, tablet or liquid) should be a decision based on a healthy dialogue between you and your primary health care provider, and you should consider which form you are most likely to take on a regular basis.
A typical dosage of glucosamine sulfate for joint health is 1500 milligrams per day, often divided into three 500 mg servings, but always follow the instructions on the product label unless instructed by your doctor.10
Adding a glucosamine pill to your supplement routine might be the most convenient way to get your daily dose of glucosamine. Glucosamine supplements are readily available in doses from 200 mg to 1500 mg per tablet, and many joint-health combination formulas are available in capsule form.
Liquid glucosamine is easily absorbed by the body and may be a great alternative for people who don’t like swallowing pills or just prefer to mix their supplements into a beverage. It often comes in fruit flavors, like orange and blueberry, which mix well with juices, smoothies or plain water. Most liquid glucosamine supplements need to be refrigerated after opening so check your product label for storage instructions.
Glucosamine powder is also easy to mix into beverages, comes in various flavors, and provides dosage flexibility similar to liquid glucosamine. But unlike liquid glucosamine, it does not typically need to be refrigerated after opening.
Glucosamine Joint Creams
Many topical creams for joint health include glucosamine along with additional joint-supporting ingredients like capsaicin (for heating action) and boswellia extract. Boswellia extract is an herbal tonic used to soothe joints and provide support for cartilage.11
If you’re looking for optimal support for joint health, you may also want to read Glucosamine Benefits for Joint Health & Beyond, or MSM Benefits. Also, check out the article Move More: How to Move More Each Day.
1 Glucosamine Sulfate. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/807.html (Accessed 04/05/2018)
2 Understanding Cartilage, Joints, and the Aging Process. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/osteoarthritis/understanding-aging-and-joints#1 (Accessed 04/05/2018)
3 Glucosamine Hydrochloride. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/747.html (Accessed 04/09/2018)
4 N-Acetyl-Glucosamine. Michigan Medicine. University of Michigan. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2889003#hn-2889003-uses (Accessed 04/09/2018)
5 Glucosamine: an ingredient with skin and other benefits. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17716251(Accessed 04/09/2018)
6 Glucosamine and Chondroitin. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/chondroitin (Accessed 3/5/2018).
7 Methylsulfonylmethane: Applications and Safety of a Novel Dietary Supplement. US National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5372953/ (Accessed 04/10/2018)
8 Engineering Lubrication in Articular Cartilage. US National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3311401/ (Accessed 04/10/2018)
9 Gelatin. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1051-gelatin.aspx? (Accessed 04/10/2018)
10 GLUCOSAMINE SULFATE. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-807-GLUCOSAMINE+SULFATE.aspx (Accessed 04/10/2018)
11 Boswellia (Indian Frankincense) https://www.healthline.com/health/boswellia Healthline. (Accessed 04/10/2018)
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.