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Glucosamine/Chondroitin for Joint Pain continued...

Glucosamine hydrochloride is more readily available over the counter in the U.S., but glucosamine sulfate works better at relieving pain, says Bonakdar.

"All the European studies of glucosamine sulfate have shown it to be more effective than glucosamine hydrochloride," he tells WebMD. "The theory is that glucosamine sulfate is better absorbed, possibly because it is closer to the body's natural glucosamine." He advises his patients to take glucosamine sulfate.

He also advises taking glucosamine sulfate alone -- rather than with chondroitin -- because the two seem to work against each other, Bonakdar explains. "Chondroitin seems to prevent glucosamine from being absorbed."

Bottom line: Should you take glucosamine or chondroitin -- or not?

"With glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, you're trying to repair cartilage," Plank explains. "But cartilage isn't always the issue, not always the reason for arthritis joint pain. These supplements are safe enough to try. Just give it two or three months -- you have to give it a chance. It's an option, and people who get relief swear by it."

The issue was further explored in a 2010 compilation of 10 studies, comparing glucosamine, chondroitin, or both on joint pain and X-ray findings in people with knee or hip pain. The researchers in this study did not find a benefit for either supplement when compared to placebo pills. Some experts are skeptical about how accurate their findings were, and still consider glucosamine to be a safe alternative to medications for arthritis, especially in people who are younger, not overweight, and with less severe arthritis.

Calcium for Joint Health

Because we're talking about bones, we must discuss calcium, Plank tells WebMD. "It's not just because calcium builds bones. It's because every time your heart pumps or a muscle contracts, your body has to use calcium. You have to have adequate calcium on board."

When your body is short on calcium, it takes calcium from bones. By getting enough calcium in your diet -- and in supplements -- you ensure adequate calcium in your blood and in bones.

Most people need 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of elemental calcium a day, and can easily get that calcium from dairy foods (303 milligrams in 1 cup of skim milk), fortified juices and foods, and from supplements.

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