Popping Pills

A lot of it goes on and sometimes we have to wonder why. To take an example, many people pop glucosamine in the form of glucosamine sulphate tablets. The reason for this appears to be entirely logical.

‘Glucosamine is a compound found naturally in the body, made from glucose and the amino acid glutamine. Glucosamine is needed to produce glycosaminoglycan, a molecule used in the formation and repair of cartilage and other body tissues. Production of glucosamine slows with age.’ (About.com)

Ball and stick model of glucosamine ((2R,6R)-6...

Ball and stick model of glucosamine ((2R,6R)-6-meth,-2-ol) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As people get older cartilage repair decreases and signs of arthritis begin to appear. So if the body is producing less glucosamine it must be a good idea to make good the shortfall by taking a glucosamine supplement, right?

Well, maybe it is, but the process by which this would work is not clear to me. We pop our glucosamine tablets which shortly reach the stomach, where they are broken down by various agents including digestive enzymes and gastric acid, including hydrochloric acid. Passing on to the bowel, if their contents make it that far, they are further broken down by alkali. Like nearly everything we swallow, the body hits them with both barrels – acid and alkali. Apart from digestive efficiency this also provides us with an excellent defence against possible food poisoning.

So does the glucosamine we swallow survive this process and then, supposing some of it does, how do we know that it then travels to the hips, knees and other joints in need of repair? I cannot find answers to these questions and wonder why that it is.

The companies that sell dietary supplements make few claims for them in their marketing. In fact, they do not even indicate what the products are supposed to be for. The farthest they will go is to praise the quality control that goes into their manufacture. So that fills us full of confidence.

To take another example, many people in my part of the world are known to be lacking in Vitamin D (we don’t get so much sunlight as some) and various studies suggest that this is not a good vitamin to be light on. For example, a recent study of 155,000 people found that Vitamin D reduced blood pressure, so for those of us affected by hypertension taking a Vitamin D supplement might be a good idea. If taking the supplement worked. After all, vitamin D tablets are hit by both barrels too.

It is not difficult to find people who report that since taking glucosamine they have begun to leap from crag to crag like mountain goats, or others who believe that Vitamin D is helping to reduce their blood pressure to the point where they can give up ACE inhibitors, or whatever prescription medication they are on. And maybe they are right. But here we have to take account of the power of the mind. Perhaps the same would have happened if they’d been popping glucose pills and the ‘active ingredient’ is actually their belief in the tablets rather than glucosamine or vitamin D.

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2 thoughts on “Popping Pills

  1. According to my reading, Cod liver oil is the one food supplement whose repairing abilities can be proven (but don’t ask me how it gets to the right place) in multiple research studies. Glucosamine Sulphate ought to work for arthritis – studies vary. Most extra vitamin consumption is (according to my my reading), at best, a waste of money, at worst a health hazard. I try and get my Vitamin D in the garden.

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    • I entirely agree about the vitamins. I have a garden too, but am much less expert than you. I spend a lot of time in it though, as a garden labourer, so I suppose I pick up some vitamin D along the way.

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