Written by Jack Feeney on January 8, 2019 Reviewed by Dr Sarah Schenker on January 23, 2019
What is chondroitin and what does it do?Chondroitin is one of the building blocks of cartilage – the tough tissue that acts as a shock absorber around the joints in humans and animals. It’s chondroitin’s job to help your cartilage hang on to water – increasing its elasticity.1,2 Chondroitin is also found in tendons, ligaments, bone and skin.3 Chondroitin supplements – as chondroitin sulphate – are used by many people to relieve symptoms of arthritis, including joint stiffness.3 It can be sourced from animal cartilage or made in a laboratory. Vegans and vegetarians should check the label for a vegan source of chondroitin.
It’s available in tablets, capsules and patches, often in combination with glucosamine – another natural compound found in cartilage.
Benefits of chondroitin
What does chondroitin do in the body?Scientists are still investigating the effects of chondroitin on joints – and studies haven’t always shown positive results. Research showing a benefit included a 2010 study in Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease which reported that chondroitin sulphate may have an anti-inflammatory effect on cells, and can prevent the breakdown of cartilage.4 Additionally, a 2015 Cochrane review looking at 43 studies involving 9,110 people found that chondroitin may help improve quality of life for people with arthritis, including helping with joint stiffness and a slight improvement on the narrowing of joint space that is associated with the condition.5 However, a 2015 study in Scientific Reports found that glucosamine and chondroitin in combination were more effective at relieving symptoms for people with knee arthritis than chondroitin taken on its own.6 Currently, the National Institute for Care and Excellence (NICE) does not recommend chondroitin for the treatment of osteoarthritis.7
How much chondroitin is safe to take?Recent trials have seen adults take doses of 800-1200mg of chondroitin sulphate per day, often divided into smaller doses.8 But to be on the safe side, always follow the recommendations on your product label, and speak to your GP before you start taking chondroitin if you have any questions. Chondroitin is not suitable for:9
- children – it has not been proved safe
- during pregnancy or while breast-feeding – there is not enough evidence regarding its safety for these groups
- asthmatics – it may make breathing problems worse
- anyone on anti-coagulant medication – it may increase the risk of bleeding
What are the side-effects of taking chondroitin?Side-effects of chondroitin are rare but can include:10,11
- stomach gassiness
Sources1. Versus Arthritis. Chondroitin 2. NHS. Cartilage damage 3. Henrotin Y, et al. Chondroitin sulfate in the treatment of osteoarthritis: from in vitro studies to clinical recommendations
4. As above5. Cochrane. Chondoitrin for osteoarthritis 6. Zeng C, et al. Effectiveness and safety of Glucosamine, chondroitin, the two in combination, or celecoxib in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee 7. NICE. Do Not Do Recommendation
8. As Source 1
9. As Source 1