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N-Acetyl Glucosamine

What Should I Know About It?

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Updated December 11, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

N-acetyl glucosamine (also known as N-acetylglucosamine) is a type of sugar available in dietary supplement form. Chemically similar to glucosamine, N-acetyl glucosamine occurs naturally in the outer shells of certain insects and shellfish. Proponents claim that taking N-acetyl glucosamine in supplement form can help treat a number of health conditions.

Uses for N-Acetyl Glucosamine

N-acetyl glucosamine is touted as a natural remedy for the following health problems:

In addition, N-acetyl glucosamine is purported to have a lightening or whitening effect when applied directly to the skin. There's some evidence that N-acetyl glucosamine can help block the production of melanin, a natural compound that gives color to your skin.

Benefits of N-Acetyl Glucosamine

So far, very few scientific studies have tested the health effects of supplements containing N-acetyl glucosamine. But while clinical trials are currently lacking, some preliminary research suggests that N-acetyl glucosamine may offer certain health benefits. Here's look at several key findings from the available studies:

1) Osteoarthritis

N-acetyl glucosamine may help reduce the inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, suggests a preliminary study published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases in 2005. In tests on rabbits, scientists determined that N-acetyl glucosamine helped alleviate arthritis-related inflammation and inhibit the breakdown of cartilage.

2) Inflammatory Bowel Disease

N-acetyl glucosamine shows promise in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (a class of conditions that includes Crohn's disease and colitis), according to a pilot study published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics in 2000. In tests on 10 children with severe Crohn's disease and two children with severe ulcerative colitis, researchers found that daily treatment with N-acetyl glucosamine led to a significant improvement in symptoms and a decrease in inflammation.

3) Multiple Sclerosis

A 2011 study from the Journal of Biological Chemistry indicates that N-acetyl glucosamine may help suppress the destructive autoimmune response involved in multiple sclerosis. In tests on mice, researchers demonstrated that N-acetyl glucosamine may help inhibit the growth and function of abnormal cells that -- in multiple sclerosis patients -- prompt the immune system to break down central nervous system tissue involved in insulating nerves.

4) Skin-Whitening

N-acetyl glucosamine may help promote lightening of the skin when used as an ingredient in skincare products, according to a 2007 study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology.

In an eight-week-long clinical trial, the study's authors found that use of N-acetyl glucosamine helped reduce abnormal darkening of the skin. The study also found that N-acetyl glucosamine may be especially effective for skin-whitening when used in combination with niacinamide (a form of vitamin B sometimes used in skincare products).

Safety

Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of long-term use of supplements containing N-acetyl glucosamine. However, N-acetyl glucosamine may cause certain adverse effects (such as itching, wheezing, and rashes) in people who are allergic to shellfish.

There's also some concern that N-acetyl glucosamine may be harmful to people with asthma. For instance, consumption of N-acetyl glucosamine may aggravate asthma symptoms and possibly trigger asthma attacks.

Where To Find N-Acetyl Glucosamine

Widely available for purchase online, supplements containing N-acetyl glucosamine are sold in many natural-foods stores, drugstores, and stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Sources

Bissett DL, Robinson LR, Raleigh PS, Miyamoto K, Hakozaki T, Li J, Kelm GR. "Reduction in the appearance of facial hyperpigmentation by topical N-acetyl glucosamine." J Cosmet Dermatol. 2007 Mar;6(1):20-6.

Grigorian A, Araujo L, Naidu NN, Place DJ, Choudhury B, Demetriou M. "N-acetylglucosamine inhibits T-helper 1 (Th1)/T-helper 17 (Th17) cell responses and treats experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis." J Biol Chem. 2011 Nov 18;286(46):40133-41.

Salvatore S, Heuschkel R, Tomlin S, Davies SE, Edwards S, Walker-Smith JA, French I, Murch SH. "A pilot study of N-acetyl glucosamine, a nutritional substrate for glycosaminoglycan synthesis, in paediatric chronic inflammatory bowel disease." Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2000 Dec;14(12):1567-79.

Shikhman AR, Amiel D, D'Lima D, Hwang SB, Hu C, Xu A, Hashimoto S, Kobayashi K, Sasho T, Lotz MK. "Chondroprotective activity of N-acetylglucosamine in rabbits with experimental osteoarthritis." Ann Rheum Dis. 2005 Jan;64(1):89-94.

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