A 2014 study indicates that glucosamine supplements aren’t likely to work well if you’re deficient in the trace mineral boron.
By now, lots of studies have verified the ability of glucosamine supplements to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis (OA), often better than over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers (although it takes longer for glucosamine’s effects to fully kick in).
And unlike these drugs, glucosamine, a natural molecule found in most body tissues, can be taken safely long-term. Also unlike drugs, glucosamine goes way beyond symptom relief: It’s been shown to inhibit joint deterioration and to stimulate and support joint healing and repair.
There’s only one problem. Glucosamine supplements don’t always work. This leads many people to give up on them and go back to pain-relieving drugs that provide more reliable relief.
Why don’t they work?
Well first, there are vast differences in glucosamine quality. Glucosamine is an expensive ingredient, and its popularity has prompted so much cheating that EMA (economically motivated adulteration) contaminants are common. Another problem is that many products have been found to contain only 40% to 90% of the amount listed on the label.
So you need to buy a trusted brand. But even the highest quality glucosamine can’t work in a vacuum.
Unlike pharmaceutical painkillers that work by blocking biochemical pathways to alleviate symptoms, glucosamine is a nutrient that the body uses along with other nutrients to build and heal. Alleviation of symptoms comes about as a natural consequence of this healing.
And for arthritic joints to heal, glucosamine needs to be supported by adequate amounts of fundamental nutrients like vitamins C, D and E, and the minerals manganese, selenium and boron.
For example, the 2014 study mentioned above showed the pivotal need for boron in getting benefit from a glucosamine supplement.
In this study, researchers divided 90 men and women suffering from OA knee pain into three groups. Over a two-week trial period, one group received a placebo; the second group received 750 mg per day of glucosamine and 200 mg of chondroitin sulfate (another major constituent of cartilage often used in supplements in conjunction with glucosamine); and the third group received the same doses of glucosamine and chondroitin with the addition of 110 milligrams of calcium fructoborate (3 milligrams of boron).
At the end of the two weeks, the group that received boron experienced a 25% reduction in joint pain and dysfunction, while there was no appreciable change in the other two groups. While it usually takes 4-6 weeks for the full benefit of glucosamine to kick in, in 2 weeks you would expect some improvement.
Being low on boron may be one reason many people aren’t getting good results from glucosamine supplements. Population studies have found that where boron intakes are 1.0 milligram per day or less, estimated rates of arthritis range from 20% to 70%; but where boron intakes average 3-10 milligrams per day, the estimated arthritis rates fall to 0-10%. According to the National Institutes of Health, in the US, we average only 1.0 to 1.5 milligrams per day of boron from food AND supplements.
So if you’re one of those people who’s given up on glucosamine, consider trying it again with a high-quality brand like our Joint Protection Formula along with foundational supplements—our Multivitamin, Bone Mineral Formula, and Vitamin C, so that you’re supplying your joints with boron and all the other supportive nutrients glucosamine needs in order to “work.”
- Reyes-Izquierdo T. Short-term efficacy of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate compared to a combination of glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and calcium fructoborate in improvement of knee discomfort in healthy subjects: a comparative, double-blind placebo-controlled acute clinical study. Journal of Aging Research and Lifestyle. 2014;3(4).
- Starling S. Joining the glucosamine supply gaps. NutraIngredients. April 20, 2011.
- Pietrzkowski Z. Short-term efficacy of calcium fructoborate on subjects with knee discomfort: a comparative, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study. Clinical Interventions in Aging. June 2014;9:895-899.
- Newnham RE. Essentiality of boron for healthy bones and joints. Environmental Health Perspectives. November 1994;102(Suppl 7):83-85.
- National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Boron: Fact Sheet for Professionals. Last updated March 20, 2021.