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What is the difference between sulphate and hydrochloride in a glucosamine form?

Q) The Arthritis Research UK report on complementary medicines for the treatment of arthritis concluded that glucosamine sulphate seemed to be of significantly greater benefit than glucosamine hydrochloride. Is this not rather misleading, as all glucosamine, whether originally in the sulphate or the hydrochloride form, enters the intestine as glucosamine hydrochloride after breakdown by hydrochloric acid in the stomach?
Anthony, Sale (Autumn 2009)

A) It sounds like you're a chemist! The whole business of giving a substance such as glucosamine is a little bit mystical. For example, why doesn’t the digestive tract reduce the glucosamine to its component parts? If it were absorbed ‘whole’ then the blood level of this substance would increase after taking it – it does but only a little (and even less gets into the joints). So, from a pharmacological point of view glucosamine doesn’t make a lot of sense, in whatever form it's given. However, some clinical trials have shown benefit and these have all been with the sulphate, so that's what's recommended!

This answer was provided by Dr Philip Helliwell for the Autumn 2009 edition of our magazine, Arthritis Today, and was correct at the time of publication.

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