The firm, which was promoting its Regenasure vegetarian glucosamine at the American Dietetic Association (ADA) annual conference this week, told NutraIngredients-USA that clinical studies on glucosamine had typically been conducted on volunteers suffering from joint pain or arthritis, with mixed results.
New focus on pre-disease states
But more promising research suggested glucosamine could be more effective when given to healthy people at risk of developing joint problems, but who had yet to experience symptoms, said Cargill director of research Jennifer van de Ligt.
“We are now focusing our research on pre-disease states with a focus on the role glucosamine can play in preserving the health of the superficial zone of cartilage. We’re in the emerging field of healthy cartilage aging. This would be moving towards a ‘helps maintain cartilage health’ type claim.
“There are recognized biomarkers of health in this zone.”
All eyes on the superficial zone
Dr Kristine Clark, director of sports nutrition at Penn State University, told delegates at the ADA conference that osteoarthritis affected more than 30 million Americans, but that pharmaceutical and nutraceutical interventions had proved largely ineffective at reversing the process, and could only offer limited pain relief.
As a result, attention had turned towards investigating the mechanisms that maintain joint health instead, with a particular focus on the mechanisms that maintain cell and tissue homeostasis in the superficial zone or top layer of cartilage (the bits that rub against each other in joints), she said.
“People want an alternative to NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).”
Glucosamine: A shift in the paradigm?
As for glucosamine, she said, “there is now a shift in the paradigm in the thinking about glucosamine from something to treat pain to something that could support joint health by enhancing the cellular homeostasis mechanisms to maintain the integrity of cartilage.
“We’ve got some exciting preliminary results from in vivo tests and we’re now at the stage of writing an abstract for presentation at a scientific conference early next year. If we can keep the superficial zone healthy, we could decrease the risk of osteoarthritis.”
Human clinical studies
Michael Fleagle, brand manager, corn milling at Cargill, said the firm was at the in vitro and pre-clinical stage but was working on a follow up human study on healthy populations with the results likely to be published in the first half of next year.
This was also in line with thinking at EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), which was only interested in studies on healthy populations for substantiating health claims, he said.
Regenasure bucks market trend
According to SPINS data, sales of glucosamine and chondroitin supplements were down 8.8% in 2010. However, sales of Regenasure were flat to showing slight growth, he said.
“Joint health generally is not doing well at the moment, whether because it’s expensive, people have moved onto other things, or because of some of the mixed messages coming out in the research. But some customers say they see things are starting to turn around.
“We’re supplying some successful multi-level marketing accounts at the moment.”
Hard health claims
As for food and drink manufacturers, joint health was a clear market opportunity, given the huge percentage of people that suffered joint pain or went on to develop osteoarthritis, he said.
However, many were reluctant to develop functional food products on a joint health platform until they felt confident they could make hard health claims on pack, he said.
“Another challenges is that while Regenasure is GRAS (generally recognized as safe), chondroitin and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), which are often included in joint health products, are not.
“However, Regenasure works well in low pH applications such as juices and it is vegetarian and made in the US, whereas a lot of the glucosamine from shellfish is from China and people aren’t always sure what they are getting.”
Glucosamine, chondroitin and osteoarthritis
A meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal last year concluded: "Compared with placebo, glucosamine, chondroitin, and their combination do not reduce joint pain or have an impact on narrowing of joint space.”
However, OARSI (OsteoArthritis Research Society International) says that some people with osteoarthritis of the knee may get symptomatic relief from glucosamine and chondroitin, said Dr Clark. “But there is not a lot of evidence it benefits other joints beyond the knee.”
But these studies were all looking at patients experiencing joint pain or loss of mobility, she said.
“Now we think it might be better to consume glucosamine before you have symptoms, while the superficial zone is undisturbed.”