Nutraceuticals…Use with Caution

By Marijke van de Water, B.Sc., DHMS

Nutraceuticals such as MSM and glucosamine have been so widely marketed for arthritis that they are now being used for every ache, pain or joint discomfort known to people and their animals – even if they are not the appropriate treatment for the condition at the time or if the benefits are not obvious. Such is the power of marketing.

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 skin problems. In addition, the long-term use of MSM can cause calcium deficiencies. All of these symptoms can occur shortly after taking the supplement or appear more slowly over time. No matter how 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 is used by many people and their pets as a treatment for inflammation and osteoarthritis because it is capable of regenerating bone cartilage. However, symptoms similar to the MSM reactions are also common with the use of glucosamine sulphate (GLS) 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. What pet parents don’t realize is that glucosamine is a type of sugar concentrated into a capsule and is therefore capable of inhibiting the pancreas from producing insulin which then interferes with blood sugar levels. As well, it also often burdens the liver since the liver must metabolize and convert all sugars. Glucosamine is therefore contraindicated in several health conditions and should not be used in dogs, cats, horses or people who have weight gain, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, blood sugar imbalances, metabolic problems and/or Cushing’s syndrome. Nor should it be used long-term if the benefits are not obvious.

Considering that millions of dogs and horses (and their people) are taking MSM and/or Glucosamine on a regular basis over long periods of time there are multiple cases occurring of fatigue, shortness of breath, poor performance, immunity issues and metabolic problems. Never are these conditions diagnosed as a nutritional problem; nutraceutical supplements, or the commercial food that may contain them, are rarely suspected of causing or exacerbating these common health conditions.

Despite the very effective mass marketing of nutraceuticals they should not be considered a panacea for every ailment. Always seek the underlying cause of all ailments be it diet, lack of exercise and/or nutritional deficiencies. For example, many lameness issues are caused by a calcium deficiency which is a very common mineral deficiency in animals. As well, there are many other safe and effective treatments for joint and muscle pain and stiffness. Bone-Up (a combination of calcium and Vitamin B6), vitamin E, vitamin B6, Joint-Clear (Herbal Blend) and various homeopathic remedies are some examples of beneficial products. In addition, eliminate all red meats and organ meats – the high acid levels in these proteins commonly contribute to pain, stiffness and inflammation.