The Health Benefits of Glycosaminoglycans

Improves joint health and skin appearance

Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs)—also known as mucopolysaccharides—primarily function to support the most important structural proteins of the skin: collagen and elastin. Glycosaminoglycans are water-binding molecules that can hold nearly 1,000 times their own weight, which helps provide moisture to the skin. 

Though GAGs are best known for increasing hydration of the skin, they are also essential in keeping epidermal and dermal cells healthy and keeping collagen and elastin in good condition. For these reasons, they are an incredibly popular ingredient in skincare products.

In addition to keeping skin youthful-appearing and healthy, glycosaminoglycans are used in the body as a lubricant for joints, for supporting connective tissues such as cartilage and tendons, and may even help assist with weight loss. Common GAG supplements include glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid.

supplement containing glucosamine and chondroitin

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Health Benefits

Anti-Aging/Moisturizing

The dermis layer of skin has three primary components: collagen, elastin, and glycosaminoglycans. There’s a reason why these are best known as a powerhouse ingredient in skincare products: GAGs offer many health benefits to the skin, helping us keep a youthful glow while also repairing scars and wrinkles. 

GAGs generally decrease in the skin as we age, which is why they are most popularly used in anti-aging products and facial moisturizers.

In one study, participants were given either a placebo cream or a cream that contained GAGs. Initially, skin hydration was the same in both groups. However, after four weeks, those who used a cream with GAGs saw a significant improvement in skin hydration.

Hydration can temporarily plump the skin and help it appear more youthful, but GAGs do more than simply keep your skin well-moisturized. The same study also examined skin elasticity and found there was a marked increase in skin elasticity in the group that used the moisturizer that contained GAGs. 

GAGs aid in scar and wound healing, too. They do this by helping the body rebuild collagen, a major component in maintaining the structure of the skin and speeding up wound and scar healing. So whether you’re looking to reduce the appearance of fine wrinkles and scars or hydrate your skin, a skin moisturizer with glycosaminoglycans may help. 

Weight Loss

Looking to shed a few extra pounds? When combined with vitamin C, glycosaminoglycans help target and reduce leptin (a hormone produced by fat cells) levels in the body. Individuals who are overweight or obese have higher levels of leptin in the body.

The higher the level of leptin in your body, the less likely you are to lose weight —even when exercising and eating well. There is some evidence from animal and human studies to show that GAGs may be helpful in reducing leptin levels in the body to help boost metabolism and assist with weight loss. 

In clinical trials, one particular supplement—a combination of GAGs—taken daily for 12 weeks resulted in lower leptin levels in the body as well as fewer inflammatory markers and cytokines. Additionally, participants experienced a significant shift toward healthier blood lipid (cholesterol and triglycerides) levels.

In animal studies, GAGs decreased food intake/reduced appetite in mice, which shows promise for similar results in humans. 

Though GAGs won’t be the “miracle” weight loss solution, they can help reduce leptin levels in the body and assist in weight loss when coupled with healthy eating and a regular exercise program. 

Arthritis 


Many people believe that GAGs help lubricate the joints, which in turn helps reduce arthritis pain. However, recent research shows that GAGs don’t lubricate joints as originally thought, but instead reduce cartilage deterioration and inflammation.

Glucosamine—a natural amino sugar produced by your body—makes up the structure of glycosaminoglycans. It is a popular dietary supplement often used to treat osteoarthritis.

Research suggests that glucosamine supplements may help reduce collagen breakdown in the body, and protect cartilage inside joints as well. It may also work to reduce inflammation in the body, which is one of the primary causes of joint pain and cartilage breakdown in individuals living with osteoarthritis.

GAGs also work as the “building blocks” of new joint cartilage, which makes them extra beneficial for managing osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. 

If your dog or cat struggles with arthritis or joint pain, studies show that GAGs may help them, too. Pets with arthritis are often treated with glucosamine, which helps decrease inflammation in the body, reduce pain, and encourage cartilage synthesis to occur. There are many dietary supplements available online and in pet food stores. 

Possible Side Effects

In general, glycosaminoglycan supplements are safe. However, as with any supplement, there are potential side effects and risks. Individuals who have taken glucosamine-chondroitin supplements, for example, may experience diarrhea and/or abdominal pain. 

Other side effects of GAG supplements include:  

  • Drowsiness
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Heartburn
  • Headaches
  • Allergic reactions (particularly if you have an allergy to shellfish) 

Dosage and Preparation

The most popular versions of glycosaminoglycans sold as supplements are most commonly available in the form of capsules or tablets. The most popular version of GAGs sold as supplements contain glucosamine and chondroitin. The recommended dose is typically 1,500 milligrams (mg) of glucosamine and 1,200 mg of chondroitin, taken daily. 

As with all nutritional supplements, it is important to follow the recommended dose on the label of the supplement you are taking. Please consult with your healthcare provider before trying GAGs, particularly if you are under a physician's care for a health condition, taking prescription medications, or are pregnant or lactating.

What to Look For

There are a number of glycosaminoglycan supplements available on the market. The most popular include: 

  • Glucosamine sulfate: One of the most widely available dietary supplements, it is popularly used to help reduce inflammation and joint pain and boost collagen production in the body.  
  • Chondroitin sulfate: One of the building blocks of cartilage, it may help slow the breakdown and reduce arthritis pain. 
  • Hyaluronic acid: This is most popular in skincare products to help with anti-aging, scar, and wrinkle-reducing, and increase moisture on the face and eyes.

Ensure the supplement you are taking is tested by an independent third party (e.g., U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, ConsumerLab). The label should clearly state the ingredients, recommended dosage, and should not market the supplement as a treatment or cure for a specific disease.

Which glycosaminoglycan supplement you choose depends on your personal preference and reasons for needing the supplement. It is important to follow all dosage instructions on the label of the product you purchase. 

Other Questions

Why are glycosaminoglycans important?

Glycosaminoglycans have many functions within the body. They play an important role in cell growth and proliferation. They support the health maintenance of skin proteins such as elastin and collagen. GAGs also promote wound repair.

Are glycosaminoglycan supplements safe?

Generally speaking, GAGs are safe with no side effects when used in skincare products, and very few side effects when taken as a dietary supplement. As with all supplements, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider before taking a GAG supplement.

Where are glycosaminoglycans found in the body?

Glycosaminoglycans are molecules found throughout the body, including skin, joints, blood plasma, and the mucous membrane of various organs. Various GAGs exist, each with its own function and benefit in the body.

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