If you have osteoarthritis, no doubt you are always on the lookout for different therapies that will help ease your discomfort. One remedy to consider is glucosamine sulfate. Comprised of glucose and amino acids, this substance may offer some relief to arthritis patients when taken in pill form.

What exactly is glucosamine sulfate? It's a cartilage building block that's obtained from the outer skeletons of shellfish, such as crabs, and processed into tablets that can be swallowed. Among the claims of companies marketing glucosamine sulfate is that it helps the body grow, repair and maintain its own cartilage. This leads to less pain and more mobility for arthritis patients. But is it true?

The answer is "possibly." A recent study in Australia enrolled 36 middle-aged arthritis sufferers and had them take 1500 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate daily for six weeks. Following that, the subjects began a 12-week walking program that got progressively more challenging.They also continued taking the glucosamine. The results? The glucosamine alone offered some improvement in the subjects' physical functioning, and their conditions further improved once they began regular walking. The scientists running the study concluded that walking at least 3,000 steps per day (or about half an hour) at least three days a week, in combination with taking glucosamine, might possibly help reduce osteoarthritis symptoms.

Glucosamine may offer additional relief when combined with chondroitin, another cartilage supplement. A large clinical trial conducted a few years ago by the National Institutes of Health called the Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT) offered some support for this theory. Almost 1,600 people took either glucosamine, chondroitin, glucosamine and chondroitin together, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), or a placebo. The results showed that glucosamine and chondroitin together offered some relief from osteoarthritis pain, but not significantly more than the relief offered by the placebo or the NSAID.

While it certainly can't hurt to try glucosamine sulfate, patients should not expect miracles when it comes to this treatment. Other therapies such as painkillers, exercise, and hot and cold baths may need to be continued.

Sources: Arthritis Foundation, www.arthritistoday.org; Institute for Traditional Medicine, www.itmonline.org; University of Maryland Medical Center, www.umm.edu; Ng TM, Heesch KC, Brown WJ (2010). Efficacy of a Progressive Walking Program and Glucosamine Sulphate Supplementation on Osteoarthritis Symptoms of the Hip and Knee: A Feasibility Trial. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 12(1), online.