Glucosamine does NOT cause hepatitis - Summer 2009

There have been a lot of anti-supplement stories lately, many of them sponsored by the drugs industry (of which more in next month’s newsletter). One of the most stupid of these was the story, put about by a group of industry stooges, that glucosamine might cause hepatitis. Glucosamine, of course, is a widely sold supplement that can be quite helpful in arthritis. It does not work in every patient, because many other nutritional factors are needed to make cartilage; but considering that 90% medical drugs only work in 30 to 50% of patients (Roses ’03), that is no reason to condemn glucosamine. (Unless, of course, you represent a drug company that makes the rather toxic NSAID’s).

This hepatitis scare was never very plausible because glucosamine is produced in the body, and taking a glucosamine supplement merely tops up levels of endogenous glucosamine. There were a couple of cases of people who took glucosamine and who subsequently developed liver damage, but oddly enough the headlines omitted any reference to other factors which might have contributed such as allergy, iron overload and alcohol intake! This was an obvious smear job, and to its credit the FSA’s Committee on Toxicology (COT) has concluded after examining existing evidence that glucosamine is vanishingly unlikely to cause liver damage.

A word of caution. If you take or are planning to take glucosamine, ensure that it is not the sulphate form. This has been linked to an array of gastro-intestinal problems, some of which are potentially very serious indeed (Gibson et al ’93, Bullock et al ‘04).


Bullock NR, Booth JC, Gibson GR. Comparative composition of bacteria in the human intestinal microflora during remission and active ulcerative colitis. Curr Issues Intest Microbiol. 2004 Sep;5(2):59-64.


COT statement:


Gibson GR, Macfarlane GT, Cummings JH. Sulphate reducing bacteria and hydrogen metabolism in the human large intestine. Gut. 1993 Apr;34(4):437-9. Review.


Roses, Allen, Worldwide vice-president of genetics at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), statement 8.12.03