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Can Taking Glucosamine Make you Fat?

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Over the last 5 years individuals interested in health and fitness have begun to supplement with Glucosamine/Chondroitin for joint and bone health.

Recently, evidence has begun to pile up that indicates glucosamine clearly causes insulin resistance in vitro and intravenously.

Insulin resistance makes you FAT and can lead to metabolic syndrome, or worse, type 2 diabetes. The question anyone taking Glucosamine orally for joint and bone health needs to seriously ponder is whether or not long term oral use of Glucosamine can create insulin resistance.

In this article we will examine the evidence to date and suggest alternatives if you are not satisfied or remain concerned about insulin resistance and Glucosamine supplementation. First, let’s take a look at what insulin resistance is and what it does to your body in terms of weight gain and cellular injury.

Insulin resistance is a symptom of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome in which you need to secrete more and more insulin in order to pull glucose from your blood into your cells and muscles. Elevated sugar in the blood is what we call hyperglycemia, again, a symptom associated with diabetes.

The affects of insulin resistance are numerous, depending on what part of your physiology we examine.

In the pancreas, where insulin is produced, sustained insulin resistance results in the pancreas producing more and more insulin until eventually, as is the case for many diabetics, it ceases to produce insulin entirely.  

In your blood, insulin resistance causes excess glucose in the blood leading to hyperglycemia, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Since we emphasis the longevity perspective here at LookCut, the impact of insulin resistance on our physiology at the cellular level is of great interest for our purposes of life long fitness.  At the cellular level, the net affect of excess insulin is to cause aptosis. Aptosis is a fancy word for cell death. Simply put, excess insulin destroys cells. In fact, it is cell death on a wide scale from insulin resistance that is at the heart of chronic inflammation and type 2 diabetes. Clearly insulin resistance is a physiological condition we want to do whatever is required to steer clear of.  Now let’s take a look at the evidence for glucosamine and insulin resistance

First we need to have a better understanding of what Glucosamine is.  The simplest way to understand what glucosamine is (the biochemistry behind it is quite mind boggling) is to say that glucosamine is a compound formed in the process of turning carbohydrates into energy (glycolysis).  In other words, glucosamine is involved in the creation of energy from sugar.

More specifically, and central to our question, is the fact that glucosamine  occurs in what is known as the Hexosamine Pathway (technically, the Hexosamine Biosynthetic Pathway).

Recently, there is a mounting body of quite compelling evidence that the Hexosamine Pathway is a key signaling mechanism to cells with regard to how much sugar they require, or ‘cellular satiety’.   

Now let’s break this down to what we can say for sure.

*Several studies show quite clearly that flux in the Hexosamine Pathway can lead to insulin resistance.

*Glucosamine taken intravenously CLEARLY influences the Hexosamine Pathway in such a way as to cause insulin resistance

*There are a few short-term studies of orally ingested glucosamine that do NOT show an increase in insulin resistance.

*There are NO long-term studies on humans taking glucosamine orally.

*There is conflicting evidence for glucosamines effectiveness with regard to joint pain and inflammation.

In summary, the best answer to the question ‘does glucosamine make you fat?’ is – no one can say for sure what the affect on insulin resistance is from long-term supplementation with glucosamine. 

Given the clear influence on insulin resistance from manipulation of the Hexosamine Pathway, and the fact there are good alternatives with good science, this may be one of those areas to be very careful about.  Consider Aspirin. We are still finding out things we didn’t know about Aspirin's long term use. Be wary of any one who tells you that one or two positive short term studies settle the issue on this topic.

A few supplement companies have tried selling glucosamine with insulin mimickers like D-pinitol.  There are a couple of studies that have been done with glucosamine and these insulin mimickers. The results were negative. The insulin mimickers had no affect.  The mechanism by which glucosamine affects the Hexosamine Pathway is extremely complex, moderated by several highly specialized enzymes and signaling molecules. Don’t hold your breath for a glucosamine/hexosamine-pathway-moderated supplement any time soon.

Since the scientific evidence favoring glucosamine for joints is mixed, if you are concerned about long-term use of glucosamine, you may wish to consider switching to Collagen Hydrolysate. 

There is solid evidence for Collagen Hydrolysate with regard to joint and bone health, plus a ton of anecdotal claims ranging from weight loss to luscious hair and nails.  Ignoring the anecdotal claims (which some people swear by) the joint studies on its efficacy are well accepted.