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Chondroitin sulfate is part of a large type of protein molecule called a proteoglycan. Proteoglycans are what give cartilage its elasticity and tensile strength (ability to absorb impact without shattering or breaking). Naturally occurring in the human body, chondroitin is also widely available in supplement form where it's derived from the cartilage of livestock processed for market. Shark cartilage also contains chondroitin but is not the source used in chondroitin supplements because of its high cost and limited availability. In fact, shark cartilage isn't really a joint supplement at all; all of the interest in shark cartilage pertained to immune system benefits.
In supplements, chondroitin is usually accompanied with glucosamine, a form of amino sugar that also plays a role in cartilage health. Chondroitin is essentially a long chain of glucosamine molecules, but each has a distinct role and it's best to take both nutrients.
Taken in conjunction with glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate may provide relief from joint pain and discomfort. People with mild-to-moderate osteoarthritis may also experience pain relief and slowing of cartilage deterioration by supplementing with chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine.
Recommended dosage is 1200 mg. usually in conjunction with 1500 mg. glucosamine, taken daily in divided doses with food.
Chondroitin sulfate-glucosamine supplements are available in tablet, liquid, and powder form.
In some individuals, chondroitin sulfate can cause a temporary increase in gas and/or loose stools. Pregnant or nursing women, children, those with a medical condition or taking medications should not use a chondroitin sulfate-glucosamine supplement without first consulting their doctor.
1. Curr Med Res Opin. 2008 May;24(5):1303-8. Epub 2008 Apr 15.