Nutraceuticals such as MSM, chondroiten and glucosamine have been so widely marketed for arthritis that they are now being used for every ache, pain and joint discomfort imaginable, including even symptoms that are completely unrelated. There are thousands of different arthritis products available for both people and their animals – particularly horses and dogs. It’s even routinely added to the dog food! Such is the power of marketing. But panaceas don’t exist – even though we are often sold on the promise that they do – and frequently cause other health problems.
MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is a form of sulphur which can be valuable for arthritis, joint pain and swellings. It can be particularly beneficial for acute muscle injuries and some forms of arthritis as it strengthens connective tissue and also helps to increase the permeability of the joint and muscle membranes allowing the release of excess fluid. This can result in a relief of swelling as well as drainage of inflammatory toxins. However, many animals and people are sensitive or intolerant to sulphur compounds which can then result in fatigue, shortness of breath, congestion, immune issues and/or skin problems. In addition, the long-term use of MSM depletes calcium levels. All of these symptoms can occur shortly after taking the supplement or appear more slowly over time. No matter how you or your pet responds, dose on the side of caution and limit the use of MSM to thirty days unless obvious benefit is demonstrated beyond that time.
Glucosamine with or without chondroitin is used by many as a treatment for inflammation and osteoarthritis because it is sometimes capable of regenerating bone cartilage. However, symptoms similar to the MSM reactions are also common with the use of glucosamine sulphate (GLS) or chondroitin sulphate since the sulphate molecule on GLS can create the same adverse immune reactions. Because of these sulphur sensitivities glucosamine is also available in non-sulphur forms such as GLHCL. But there are other problems with glucosamine. Glucosamine is a unique type of sugar concentrated into a capsule. It therefore inhibits the pancreas from producing insulin which raises blood sugar levels. And, it over-works the liver because the liver must metabolize all sugars. Glucosamine is therefore contraindicated in several health conditions and should not be used in dogs, horses or people with weight gain, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, blood sugar imbalances, metabolic problems and/or Cushing’s syndrome. As well, glucosamine has been implicated in causing an increase of blood pressure and changes in heart rhythm in sensitive people and animals. Some of these issues are easy to detect with people but your dog or horse cannot tell you that they feel shaky inside or that their heart doesn’t feel right.
Considering that millions of people, dogs and horses are taking MSM and/or glucosamine products over long periods of time we know that there are thousands of cases of fatigue, shortness of breath, poor performance, immunity issues, heart symptoms and metabolic problems occurring as side effects. But to date – even though millions of people and animals are using these products – there is little awareness of the problems that are occurring with these so called safe supplements. Rather, the symptoms are blamed on other issues and people and pets may even be wrongly medicated.
Despite the very effective mass marketing of nutraceuticals they should not be considered a panacea for every ailment. There are no panaceas; if it’s too good to be true it probably is. Always seek the underlying cause of all ailments be it diet, lack of exercise and/or nutritional deficiencies. Diet is a major cause of joint pain! And never use supplements long-term unless they have demonstrated obvious benefits. As herbivores, horses should never use glucosamine or chondroitin that is sourced from animal bone, shark or shellfish. Nutraceuticals can now also be artificially synthesized in the lab from vegetarian sources but these are made from fungus or fermented wheat or GMO corn – also not desirable alternatives.
Alongside diet, there are many other natural solutions for joint pain and inflammation. Lameness and arthritic issues are frequently related to a calcium deficiency which is a very common mineral deficiency in both people and in animals. For a safe and effective program start with Bone-Up (Calcium citrate and Vitamin B6) and Joint-Clear (birch bark, black cohosh, burdock root, yucca root). For horses eliminate grass, all grains and high sugar feeds; and eliminate all sugars, fruit, red meats and organ meats for dogs and people. All of these high acid foods commonly contribute to pain, stiffness and inflammation. Rarely will supplements – including nutraceuticals – correct the health problems caused by unhealthy diets.