Monday, August 16, 2010

How much chondroitin is really in your joint supplement?

In many joint supplements, there is a combination of three ingredients: MSM, Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate. MSM and Glucosamine are very easy to test and the test results are generally not in dispute. However this is not the same for chondroitin sulfate.

Why? Chondroitin sulfate (chondroitin) is a naturally occurring polymer found in most animals. A polymer is a chain of repeating molecules. These can be one molecule repeated over and over again, such as starch, which is the sugar glucose attached in a long branched chain. In chondroitin, there are 2 molecules that are attached to each other that then repeat over and over again in a long straight (unbranched) chain. The repeating unit in chondroitin is one where one molecule is always glucose plus a molecule that is glucose with 2 other groups attached. The placement of these other groups leads to the differences in the main unit. In general there are 3 different types of these 2 unit molecules and this is where things get a bit more complicated. Certain animals put these 3 unit into the chondroitin chains in a unique way. This can be detected in some test methods to indicate if the product is from a certain animal, ie shark, bovine, porcine, avian. The length of the chain can be as many as 100 of these units on average. It is because of this variety that testing for chondroitin is so difficult.

There are in general 2 ways to test for chondroitin. One of these methods cannot tell the difference between the animal type (species) of chondroitin while the other can. Because the animals make the chondroitin chain with slightly different lengths, it is another complicating factor in the analysis.

All this is to say that no method of testing the quantity of chondroitin is absolutely correct. It is done in comparison to a standard chondroitin, but again the quantity of chondroitin in this standard must be agreed upon since it depends upon which of these test methods is used in how the testing methods might see this chondroitin.

The current USP (United States Pharmacopeia) uses a method which detects the reaction of a certain chemical with one of the molecules attached to the glucose back bone. This method is often used to confirm the level of chondroitin in a product, but there are certain situations where this method does not work well and provides low results if the quality of the chondroitin is not high enough.

The other method uses a fairly complicated and uses a High Performance Liquid Chromatograph (HPLC). First the chondroitin is treated with enzymes that can break down the chondroitin to its simple 2 molecule components. This takes some very careful work to ensure that the enzymes work to completion. Then the unknown material is compared again to an agreed standard of chondroitin to determine the quantity. In this case it is complicated in that your standard must be from the same species as the test product. If the test product is a combination of more than one species, then this test does not work well or gives inaccurate results.

The bottom line is that no matter which method is used, the outcome is based upon a general agreement as to what it is measuring. So as a user of chondroitin, it is difficult to know if first the product you are using was even tested for chondroitin. If it was tested, it is difficult to know how well the test was performed or which testing procedure was followed.

As a manufacturer, we are committed to producing high quality products. For this reason, we have standardized one test method (the generally accepted USP method) and we test all finished products containing chondroitin to ensure that we are delivering what our labels indicate that we deliver. We use only the highest quality chondroitin. Another reason to trust iWinDirect.

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