Supplements commonly used to treat arthritic pain and stiffness may be related to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a study published in the British Medical Journal on Tuesday.
The research was led by Prof Lu Qi at Tulane University in New Orleans and drew on data from the UK Biobank, which is a population-based study of more than half a million British men and women.
It found that regular use of glucosamine supplements may have benefits in preventing CVD events, such as coronary heart disease and stroke. They said further clinical trials were needed to test the theory.
Glucosamine is a popular dietary supplement used to relieve osteoarthritis and joint pain. Overall, almost one in five participants reported glucosamine use at the start of the study.
The researchers found that glucosamine use was associated with a 15 per cent lower risk of total CVD events, and a 9 per cent to 22 per cent lower risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and death from CVD compared with no use.
These favourable associations remained after taking account of traditional risk factors, including age, sex, weight (BMI), ethnicity, lifestyle, diet, medication and other supplement use.
The association between glucosamine use and CVD was also stronger in current smokers (37 per cent lower risk) compared with former smokers (18 per cent) and those who never smoked (12 per cent).
Several mechanisms may explain these results, according to the authors. For example, regular use of glucosamine has been linked to a reduction in levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a chemical associated with inflammation.
This may also help to explain the stronger association among smokers, who have higher levels of inflammation and higher risk of CVD than non-smokers.
In addition, previous data has suggested that glucosamine may mimic a low-carbohydrate diet, which has been inversely associated with the development of CVD.
Despite the large sample size, the study is observational and as such cannot establish cause.
Dr Louisa Lam, deputy dean of the School of Nursing and Healthcare Professions at Federation University Australia, said she had doubts about the veracity of the research.
“There is so much controversy around the effects of glucosamine and vitamin supplements in general, and I do have my doubts about this analysis,” she said. “There is lots of research evidence that supports my doubt.
“My view is that the study has a very large sample, and with large samples like that, it is easy to find some statistical significance in ‘things’ the researchers want.
“I would really like to see if there is an association with other supplements and CVD events or death. The authors should provide information on other supplements as comparisons.
“Also, a Yes and No answer on the use of glucosamine is insufficient. We need dose and length information. I have my doubts about the reported result in relation to the link between glucosamine supplements and lower risks of CVD events.”