For years we have heard, “Take a Glucosamine supplement for joint pain.”
It was something I would recommend because it seemed relatively safe. The only negative I had come across was that natural production of glucosamine stops and doesn’t start up again until about a month after stopping supplementation.
So, when I started taking a glucosamine sulfate supplement I didn’t think anything of it.
Like many of us, I’m not 100% committed to my health. I’m much more committed to my clients’ health over mine. Yet, every once in a while, I need to just drop everything and face my own reality. I ran into that moment when I found myself free-range grazing through the chocolate candy jars in the office and gaining weight.
I was gaining that “belly fat” that is impossible to lose and is usually associated with an imbalance in sugar/glucose metabolism.
On my mother’s side, everyone has diabetes and severe insulin injecting diabetes. In my immediate family only my sister and I have avoided the diabetic label. Well…almost.
About 20 years ago I was diagnosed diabetic. At that time, I changed a lot and went for orthomolecular information to change my world. It took three years and my fasting blood glucose has been a consistent 99 until two years ago when it moved up to 100.
Free-ranging the office chocolates has always been my early warning sign that my blood chemistry is off, and I need to do something about it. I implemented my daily vitamin and mineral supplement plan.
Taking supplements day-in and day-out is tedious. But, with a little effort, I can do it.
To help with the weight issue, I started changing my diet going more vegan and doing things that help the liver such as drinking sauerkraut juice (yuck, right?). I know this works. It’s worked in the past. This time, the only difference was I had added in a couple supplements to address the insane amount of stress that I had been under this last year including a glucosamine supplement.
Everything still sounds like I’m on the right path. A month into taking the supplements, I start getting diarrhea. I start feeling exhausted. Then I start feeling bloated. I wasn’t losing weight. I was eating like a wraith and looking like a whale. My body aches were getting worse instead of better.
In Chinese Medicine, my symptoms were Spleen Organ/Channel symptoms congruent with metabolic syndrome and glucose issues in Western medicine. How could that be? I had changed my diet to about 70% vegan, had cut out most sugars, had added key foods to improve digestion and liver function, and started taking supplements. I felt like I was being punished for doing the right things.
I took a long hard look at my supplements. I didn’t have anything that could point to the glucosamine supplement, but it just seemed like the one causing issues. I reduced the amount of glucosamine by 50% and the diarrhea went away for about 5 days. Then it came back. The lack of weight loss and the weight increase encouraged me to hit the scientific research and see what I could find.
It turns out that most of the research had been done with glucosamine sulfate, the type of glucosamine I was taking. Not only could it cause diarrhea, in some susceptible individuals, it could cause diabetes! Really (frowning face…boo), how annoying is that?
The question for me was, “Who are these susceptible individuals”? How could I identify them? It couldn’t be all people with diabetes and it couldn’t be everyone with a strong diabetic history in their past because I would have heard about this sooner.
Diet was the first trigger. It turns out that glucosamine can cause weight gain or weight loss depending on your eating habits. In a high carb/low fat diet, it has the potential to cause weight gain. The exact type of diet I was eating was helping glucosamine turn me into a bloat monster. On the other side, if I was eating a high fat diet, it would help me lose weight.
The second trigger was insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome. It turns out that glucosamine can cause insulin resistance due to the ability of glucosamine to deplete ATP in the body (the body’s way of storing energy). Thus, the sensation of feeling exhausted all the time.
Can you believe that? A month of eating better than I have in years. Pushing myself through the endless sugar withdrawals, fat withdrawals all to be waylaid by a supplement. Really?
The truly funny part about this is the sugar withdrawals. Glucosamine is a sugar. So, those withdrawals were pretty much 24/7. From a Chinese Medical perspective, too much sugar in the blood causes phlegm which Chinese Medicine considers a thick fluid that has a difficult time going through the joint membranes causing more pain. In addition, sugar is the flavor of the spleen, but in excess overwhelms the spleen causing things like diarrhea, diabetes, fatigue, weight gain etc.
What does this mean? Well, it means that I’m starting over again and have kicked the glucosamine habit to the curb. Right now, all the research is with glucosamine sulfate and there is conversation that the other types of glucosamine do not have the same impact. So,back at step one. Before I start…can I get a chocolate bar?
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Hresko RC, Heimberg H,Chi MM,Mueckler M. Glucosamine-induced insulin resistance in 3T3-L1 adipocytes is caused by depletion of intracellular ATP. J. Biol. Chem. 1998;273:20658–20668.