Chondroitin, also known as chondroitin sulfate, is a naturally occurring compound found in cartilage. When taken as a supplement, it is purported to promote healthy joints by warding off the effects of damaging enzymes, increasing water retention, and enhancing the elastic properties of cartilage.
Proponents of taking chondroitin as a dietary supplement point to studies that have found that it eases symptoms of osteoarthritis, a form of degenerative joint disease, which people commonly refer to as arthritis. Many of these studies indicate that taking the supplement is just as effective for treating the pain caused by arthritis as taking of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
People who take chondroitin to relieve osteoarthritis in their knees and hips may find that their pain is abated and they are able to move about more freely, but so far there is no hard evidence that taking it actually rebuilds damaged cartilage. Studies are in the works now to determine if the compound merely eases the symptoms of arthritis or actually generates new cartilage. As of now, there is no empirical evidence to suggest that it is also effective for arthritis in the hands, fingers, or back.
Scientists who have studied chondroitin have come to realize that the body is able to absorb as much as 15% when taken as a dietary supplement. The recommended daily dosage for those who take supplement is 400-600 mgs three times per day. Many times, it is combined with glucosamine sulfate, another compound that is touted for its cartilage benefits, or with other essential vitamins that may aid in overall good health.
According some study results, there are few adverse affects from taking chondroitin, and it is safe to take in conjunction with pain relievers and other arthritis prescription drugs. Instances of mild stomach irritation have been reported in some cases. People hoping for joint relief should be patient once they start a regimen; results can take up to two months to be noticeable.
Most of today's chondroitin is synthetically manufactured, but some is extracted from shark cartilage or cow tracheae. The synthetic form is recommended because the dosage and safety can be more easily controlled.
The US Food and Drug Administration has not yet evaluated or approved chondroitin. Opponents of using it as a dietary supplement say that it simply does not work for as many as 50% of the case study patients, and that the molecules are too large for the body to absorb.