Chondroitin is a health supplement marketed for use in osteoarthritis to relieve pain and improve joint mobility. Find out how to take it safely and possible side effects.
What is chondroitin?
Chondroitin is found naturally in your body. It is thought to keep cartilage in joints spongy and healthy. Cartilage is the slippery, shock-absorbing tissue that covers the ends of the bones in a joint. It allows your bones to move smoothly against each other.
In New Zealand chondroitin is not registered as a medicine but is considered a health supplement (also known as complementary and alternative therapy). It can be bought from pharmacies and health shops. The chondroitin in manufactured supplements is usually from cow or shark cartilage. 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. The theory is that taking chondroitin supplements may help to improve and repair damaged cartilage.
Does chondroitin work?
In general, research on chondroitin has not shown it to be helpful for pain from knee or hip osteoarthritis. More than 20 studies have looked at the effect of chondroitin on pain from knee or hip osteoarthritis. The quality of the studies varied and so did the results. However, the largest and best studies showed that chondroitin doesn’t lessen osteoarthritis pain.1
- There is no established dose of chondroitin for osteoarthritis, but manufacturers tend to recommend 400–1200mg daily.3
- The effect of chondroitin is not immediate. You may need to take the supplement for 4–6 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 to you and it's best to talk to your doctor about other ways of managing your arthritis.
Considerations if you are using a health supplement
If you are using a supplement such as chondroitin, let your doctor know. Together you can discuss any benefits of using the supplement. They can also check interactions with your prescribed medicines or other treatments and any safety concerns.
The sorts of questions you may want to discuss with your doctor include the following:
- Is there clinical evidence of effect?
- Are there adverse effects?
- Does it interact with other medicines?
- Will it affect my other medical treatment?
- Will it reduce the need for other medicines?
What are the side effects of chondroitin?
Chondroitin is not known to cause any major side effects. Milder side effects may include nausea (feeling sick), indigestion, stomach upset, constipation and diarrhoea (runny poos).
Did you know that you can report a side effect to a medicine to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product
- Glucosamine and chondroitin for osteoarthritis National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health, US
- Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate OrthoInfo, AAOS
- Chondroitin – what are the adverse effects? Specialist Pharmacy Services, NHS
Additional resources for healthcare professionals
Dilemmas – alternative remedies and lifestyle measures for longevity BPAC, NZ, 2008
Symptomatic management of osteoarthritis BPAC, NZ, 2008
What are my options for managing hip or knee osteoarthritis? A stepped decision aid to discuss options with your practitioner Cochrane Musculoskeletal Group