Chondroitin sulfate is a sulfated complex carbohydrate and a major component of cartilage, the connective tissue that protects and keeps bones together. Chondroitin is classified an over-the-counter or prescription drug in many European countries, but in the U.S. it is still regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a dietary supplement. Independent chondroitin sulfate supplements are rare; glucosamine is chondroitin sulfate’s most common companion, and some research suggests that the two behave synergistically when used together. Commercially available chondroitin sulfate is made from the cartilage of various animals, including that of cows, pigs, and sometimes fish.
Chondroitin supplements are widely (and somewhat controversially) used to ease the pains of osteoarthritis. While chondroitin sulfate may actually reduce pain in users because of their belief in its ability to do so—a psychological phenomenon known as the placebo effect— the accumulated body of research conducted on chondroitin sulfate’s efficacy is far from conclusive. Some trials conducted on chondroitin’s efficacy in the treatment or alleviation of osteoarthritis have been shoddily designed, but even the findings of legitimate double-blind, placebo-controlled trials have been mixed.
In one reputable set of clinical trials known collectively as the Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT), a combination of chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine provided statistically significant pain relief to a group of participants with moderate-to-severe osteoarthritic pain. The researchers who conducted the study were careful to stress that these findings ought to be considered preliminary. Thus, more research is needed to better understand glucosamine and chondroitin’s potential (or inability, as the case may be) as treat osteoarthritis and similar joint ailments.
Chondroitin sulfate is also used to treat other health conditions, including osteoporosis, heart disease, high cholesterol, and iron-deficiency anemia, but these uses have yet to be substantiated by credible experimentation. Though chondroitin sulfate is recognized as being safe, consumers are advised, in the interest of their financial and bodily health, to conduct personal research on chondroitin sulfate and consult with a medical professional before regularly using a chondroitin sulfate supplement for osteoarthritis or any other health condition.