Chondroitin

Easy-to-read information about chondroitin – what it is, how to take it safely and possible side effects. Chondroitin is marketed for use in osteoarthritis to relieve pain and improve joint mobility.

What is chondroitin?

  • Chondroitin is found naturally in the body.
  • It is thought to keep cartilage in joints spongy and healthy. Cartilage is the slippery, shock absorbing tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint. It allows the bones to move smoothly against each other.
  • Chondroitin is also available as a nutritional supplement that can be bought from pharmacies and health shops.
  • The chondroitin in manufactured supplements is usually obtained from cow or shark cartilage.
  • In New Zealand chondroitin is not registered as a medicine but is considered a health supplement.
  • Chondroitin is often sold in combination with another supplement called glucosamine.

What is chondroitin used for?

Chondroitin is marketed for use in osteoarthritis to relieve pain and improve joint mobility.

Does chondroitin work?

  • The scientific evidence around the use of chondroitin is not strong.
  • Some studies have found that chondroitin reduces pain more than placebo. However, several new studies have found no improvement in pain.
  • There is some evidence that chondroitin supplements may slow cartilage breakdown or repair damaged cartilage from knee osteoarthritis.
  • A recent Cochrane review, 2015, of randomized trials of mostly low quality reveals that "chondroitin (alone or in combination with glucosamine) was better than placebo in improving pain in participants with osteoarthritis in short-term studies. The benefit was small to moderate with an 8 point greater improvement in pain (range 0 to 100) and a 2 point greater improvement in Lequesne's index (range 0 to 24), both seeming clinically meaningful. These differences persisted in some sensitivity analyses and not others."

Dose

  • The recommended dose for chondroitin is 800 to 1,000 mg per day.
  • The effect of chondroitin is not immediate. You may need to take the supplement for four to six weeks before you notice any improvement. If there is no change in your symptoms by then, it’s likely the supplement will not be of benefit for you and it’s advisable you talk to your doctor about other ways of managing your arthritis.

Possible side effects

  • Chondroitin is not known to cause any major side effects.
  • This has been confirmed by Singh et al's recent review in 2015 that concluded, "chondroitin had a lower risk of serious adverse events compared with control." 
  • Milder side effects may include:
    • nausea (feeling sick)
    • indigestion, stomach upset.

Learn more

Complementary therapies and products Arthritis New Zealand
Glucosamine and chondroitin Arthritis information sheet, Arthritis Australia

References

  1. Richy F, Bruyere O, Ethgen O, Cucherat M, Henrotin Y, Reginster JY. Structural and symptomatic efficacy of glucosamine and chondroitin in knee osteoarthritis: a comprehensive meta-analysis. Arch Intern Med. 2003 Jul 14;163(13):1514-22.

  2. Singh JA, Noorbaloochi S, MacDonald R, Maxwell LJ. Chondroitin for osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD005614. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005614.pub2
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Last reviewed: 14 Apr 2015