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Is There a Connection between Glucosamine and Cholesterol?

By April S. Kenyon
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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Glucosamine has many common names, and it can be found in many different products designed to relieve the painful effects of osteoarthritis. It is derived from the exoskeletons of marine animals (crustaceans), or it can be synthesized. Glucosamine is a hydrochloride, or sulfated salt, used to form half of a subunit called keratin sulfate. This keratin sulfate, found in ligaments, synovial fluid, and tendons, is what an osteoarthritis sufferer lacks. While it is still undetermined if there is a causal link between glucosamine and cholesterol, studies have indicated that the concern may be founded.

Lab studies on mice have recorded higher occurrences of LDL levels in mice that also received the compound, indicating a possible connection between glucosamine and cholesterol. Two human studies have produced similar results. The specific results of these studies showed that the way in which it reacts in the body raises the insulin levels of the person due to impaired insulin production. A raised insulin level (hyperinsulinemia) contributes to, and is often associated with, elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. Glucosamine has yet to get FDA approval as a treatment for osteoarthritis and must undergo many more studies before conclusive evidence can be shown for the connection between glucosamine and cholesterol levels can be established.

Those at the highest risk for glucosamine affected cholesterol levels are those with hyperlipidemia (abnormally high fat or lipid concentration in blood) or hyoerinsulinemia to begin with. Glucosamine usage has been shown to impair insulin production in otherwise healthy individuals. Diabetics should be aware of the increase in blood glucose levels that can result from the addition of glucosamine supplementation in the diet. For an individual without impaired insulin production, more insulin is produced in the body automatically in order to compensate, while a diabetic would need to compensate with administered hypoglycemic agents, such as insulin, sulfonylureas, or metformin.

While it is still undetermined if there is, in fact, a causal link between glucosamine and cholesterol levels, regular cholesterol screenings are generally recommended for those who use it. An added concern exists that usage may increase blood pressure levels due to the increase in insulin levels. If an increase in cholesterol or blood pressure occurs after a few months of using a glucosamine supplement, a person may be advised by a physician to stop the supplementation, and re-screening may be necessary. Screening should be done once every six months in order to detect any change in cholesterol levels while using the supplement.

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Discussion Comments

By SarahGen — On Jul 20, 2013

I was wondering why my bad cholesterol was so high in my last blood test. I had started taking a glucosamine suphate supplement (1500mg/daily) for my arthritis. I guess I'm going to have to quit it.

By discographer — On Jul 20, 2013

@donasmrs-- I think the side effects of glucosamine depends on the individual. It doesn't affect everyone the same way and you're right that the dose and how long it is taken are important factors. Technically though, glucosamine has the potential to raise cholesterol, and also blood sugar and blood pressure. So people who already have problems with these should not take glucosamine.

My sister and I started taking glucosamine around the same time and we both have cholesterol. Glucosamine increased my LDL but it didn't affect my sister's LDL much. So clearly, it's not possible to make generalizations about this supplement and its affects on cholesterol. You might have to test it out and see for yourself, after asking your doctor of course.

By donasmrs — On Jul 19, 2013

I don't have diabetes but my LDL is slightly above normal. Will taking glucosamine supplements for a short time be very bad for my cholesterol?

Impaired insulin function and higher bad cholesterol sounds like very serious side effects, but I'm guessing that it's more of a risk at higher doses and when used for a long time. Am I right?

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