Chondroitin sulfate (CS) is composed of a chain of sugars and is a major component of cartilage, tendons, ligaments and bones. CS delivers nutrients to the cartilage, slows down the production of enzymes that destroy cartilage and speeds up the formation of new cartilage.
Chondroitin sulfate is derived from cows or pigs, as well as sharks, fish and birds and can be taken as a supplement (x). It has excellent anti-inflammatory properties for arthritis sufferers and can be injected into the bladder via a catheter to ease painful or overactive bladders.
Benefits of Chondroitin Sulfate
Arthritis is the main reason people take chondroitin sulfate supplements. However, there are some other benefits and uses.
Osteoarthritis stems from cartilage loss around the joints. The tissue tends to wear away over time and osteoarthritis is especially common in the hips, knees, hands and spine. If the tissue erodes completely, the joint bones begin to rub on each other and can become very painful (x).
Supplementing with chondroitin sulfate can help build cartilage and avoid total erosion of the joints. The anti-inflammatory properties in CS work on arthritis in two ways. CS slows down the cartilage erosion and prevents inflammation, which can lead to further damage (x).
There have been many studies on CS as a treatment for osteoarthritis, including an extensive one by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM; now Integrative Health or NCCIH) (x, x).
Chondroitin sulfate can be combined with another supplement known as glucosamine, a chemical found in the fluid around joints. The combination of the two is capable of supporting the joints as a whole (x).
Boasts Anti-Inflammatory Effects
There are many medical problems and chronic diseases that are a result of inflammation in the body. Chondroitin sulfate inhibits the production of inflammation markers like nitric oxide (NO). When there is too much NO in the body, the joints, the gut and lungs can become inflamed. Preventing the body from making too much nitric oxide helps control inflammation (x).
Psoriasis is an inflammation disorder of the central nervous system. The skin cells multiply and build upon the skin, causing red patches and scales. These can be itchy, and sometimes painful. This condition can spread to the joints as well. There is no cure for this chronic disease; however, CS can help with symptoms (x).
Relieves Bladder Issues
Chondroitin sulfate supplements help reduce symptoms associated with an overactive bladder. In conjunction with other ingredients, CS soothes symptoms of a painful bladder, known as interstitial cystitis. This condition arises when the signals from your bladder that usually let your brain understand the bladder is full get mixed up. The symptoms are similar to a urinary tract infection (UTI), though there is no infection causing the discomfort (x, x).
Bone and Joint (Kashin-Beck) Disease
This is a chronic condition first displayed in children and most common in China and other Asian countries. Kashin-Beck disease destroys the joints, leading to reduced mobility, slowing of growth and arthritis. Taking chondroitin sulfate supplements, whether with glucosamine or not, reduces pain in patients with this disease (x).
Fights Breast Cancer
Some of the drugs used to treat breast cancer cause joint pain. According to research in Support Care Cancer, chondroitin sulfate, in combination with glucosamine, can ease the pain with its effects on joint cartilage. Fortunately, joint pain as a result of cancer treatment does not permanently damage the joints as arthritis does (x).
Maintains Healthy Eyes
According to the American Journal for Ophthalmology, one of the benefits of chondroitin sulfate includes maintaining healthy eyes. In fact, it is often present in drops for dry eyes. The FDA has also approved it for cataract surgery as it protects eyes (in conjunction with sodium hyaluronate). Moreover, it is useful for preserving corneas during transport for corneal transplant surgery (x).
Lowers the Risk of Heart Attacks
According to early research in angiology, taking chondroitin sulfate supplements can help prevent heart attacks. CS has anti-thrombogenic properties, which means it may prevent the formation of clots in the bloodstream (x).
Treats Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
Urinary tract infections can be painful. Typically, bacteria enters through the urethra and multiplies in the bladder. Urinary tract infections are dangerous, and if the infection spreads to the kidneys, it can lead to serious consequences. Both men and women can suffer from such infections. But since women have a shorter urethra, they tend to have UTIs more frequently (x).
European Urology found that using chondroitin sulfate helps reduce the number of UTIs for patients with a history of contracting the infection (x).
Food Sources of Chondroitin Sulfate
Concentrated amounts of chondroitin sulfate are present in the cartilage of certain lean meats including shark fin, ray, crocodile and chicken. In a study focusing on the by-product of some slaughter houses and fisheries, chicken keel, crocodile hyoid and sternum cartilage proved to carry the highest amounts of chondroitin sulfate (x).
Dosages and Side Effects of Chondroitin Sulfate
The dosage for chondroitin sulfate powder is 750-1,500 mg per day, or as directed by a physician per individual needs. The dose can be taken all at once or divided up throughout the day to ease any adverse effects.
There aren’t any life-threatening side effects from chondroitin sulfate. Some patients experience bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, skin rashes and irregular heartbeats. Others may have swollen eyelids or leg swelling (x).
Avoid CS if you are taking blood clotting drugs like Warfarin as the combination of the two drugs may cause bruising and severe bleeding (x). Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid taking CS, as well as asthma sufferers (x).
The Bottom Line
Chondroitin sulfate is useful for treating arthritis and soothing symptoms of psoriasis and overactive bladders. It also helps keep eyes healthy, can support urinary tract health, especially in women, and prevent heart attacks. Side effects are generally mild and not life-threatening. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid taking CS, as well as asthma sufferers and people taking blood clotting drugs like Warfarin.