In 2020 two separate, large-scale population-based studies came to the same astounding conclusion: people who take the nutrient glucosamine live longer because of reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and many other causes.
The larger and arguably more definitive of the two studies, published in the weighty British Medical Journal, reported that regular glucosamine intake was associated with reduced risk of death from heart disease by 18%, from cancer by 6%, and from respiratory and digestive illnesses by a solid 25%. The magnitude of these protective effects is not tiny, and is paralleled by (if not slightly exceeds) healthy lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and a lifetime of regular exercise. In a year in which immune health dominated thoughts and headlines, this vital health news flew under the radar. Here’s what you need to know.
What is glucosamine?
Glucosamine is technically considered an amino sugar, a simple molecule that contains elements and properties of both amino acids and carbohydrates. Although naturally occurring in the body, we can also absorb it from the GI tract. The body then incorporates glucosamine into cartilage, prevents breakdown, promotes repair, and helps lubricate joints. A natural source of glucosamine used in the formulation of dietary supplements can be found in the exoskeletons of crustaceans (flexible shrimp shells). None of this, however, explains how or why glucosamine appears to be a longevity nutrient.
How could a molecule previously known as a joint protector have such profound and widespread benefits? Although further research will confirm this, existing studies point the way to a few of the mechanisms that might underlie the glucosamine effect.
Glucosamine is anti-inflammatory
Human, animal, and laboratory studies point to glucosamine’s ability to quell inflammation. It seems to be able to flip the switch on the all-important NF-kappaB, the body’s main inflammation-control mechanism. Since inflammation fuels the fire of every chronic disease, anti-inflammatory effects provide a plausible mechanism for the surprising breadth of glucosamine’s boon. Interestingly, study authors note that the life-protective trend hints to be even stronger in smokers taking glucosamine. This may be due to the anti-inflammatory action providing a measure of protection against a pro-inflammatory habit.
Glucosamine is a low-carb diet mimicker
One study in aged mice found that glucosamine stimulates metabolic changes resembling those seen in low-carbohydrate diets, including similar age-delaying effects. These changes include inducing production of mitochondria, our cellular batteries. Maintaining healthy mitochondria throughout life is critical for aging.
Glucosamine activates autophagy
Autophagy is a type of cellular housekeeping in which worn or dysfunctional cellular components are scavenged and removed from the body. This process tends to get less efficient with age, further contributing to the aging process itself. Activating autophagy has been shown to prolong lifespan and reduce disease severity in a number of experimental models. Fasting stokes this cellular cleansing process, which is partly why it has become so popular.
A select few nutrients can also stimulate and support autophagy, glucosamine being one of them.
What to look for
Look for glucosamine sulphate, which is generally safe though not suitable for people with shellfish allergies. Further studies are needed to determine whether synthetic glucosamine, which is shellfish free, is as beneficial for life extension. An optimal dose for mortality benefits has not been established, however glucosamine users typically take 1500 mg per day for joint health.
What about chondroitin? While glucosamine supplements usually contain this closely related nutrient, longevity analysis excluding chondroitin use found no decrease in benefits, indicating that glucosamine is the active ingredient in the death-delay department.
-  Largo R, Alvarez-Soria MA, Díez-Ortego I, et al. Glucosamine inhibits IL-1beta-induced NFkappaB activation in human osteoarthritic chondrocytes. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2003; 11(4):290-8.
- Weimer S, Priebs J, Kuhlow D, et al. D-Glucosamine supplementation extends life span of nematodes and of ageing mice. Nat Commun. 2014; 5:3563.
- Caramés B, Kiosses WB, Akasaki Y, et al. Glucosamine activates autophagy in vitro and in vivo. Arthritis Rheum. 2013; 65(7):1843-52.