Stability and taste test limits of glucosamine in beverages

Oral glucosamine supplementation has demonstrated effectiveness in combatting osteoarthritis. Can the same results be found when integrated into a beverage format? Todd Runestad investigates.

Glucosamine has a solid track record of effectiveness against osteoarthritis. A landmark, long-term 2001 Lancet study using the patented Dona brand of glucosamine sulphate showed improved long-term structure-modifying and symptom-modifying benefits in the knee after three years. A 2000 meta-analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that glucosamine preparations demonstrate moderate to large effects on osteoarthritis.

In oral dosage forms, this natural product works, and the published research supports it. This is the primary reason why glucosamine owns more than half the market for non-vitamin, non-botanical supplement sales in the US. (See chart, below.)

Just recently, innovative product formulators began developing glucosamine products in a beverage format, with catchy names like Joint Juice and Motion Potion. A number of issues need to be addressed in this regard—amongst them solubility, stability and, of course, taste. Can these hurdles be overcome and can the beverages still deliver an efficacious product?

A matter of taste
Taste and mouthfeel are unquestionably the most important measures of any product?s viability. The most efficacious product in the world simply won?t sell if consumers don?t like it.

In this regard, most believe that working with the hydrochloride (HCl) form is superior to the sulphate form. In equine medicine, where glucosamine first got its start, horses reportedly liked the sweeter taste of HCl over sulphate.

Mike Smith, vice president and formulator of Dynamic Nutritional Products, asserts that the sulphate form of glucosamine has an aftertaste that requires masking agents to make it more palatable. ?My first choice is to see if I could make glucosamine sulphate taste good because most of the research is on sulphate,? he says. ?If that was problematic, then I?d look at glucosamine hydrochloride.?

Cargill has launched a patented glucosamine HCl called Regenasure. One reason for using HCl instead of sulphate is because the company?s clients have told them of significant challenges to masking the sulphate taste. ?The basic beverage formulation strategy is to use sweetness and acidity, your sugars and citric acid, to balance that flavour out,? says Cargill?s technical applications manager Brent Rogers. ?A sweet fruity flavour has good synergy with our product. We give guidance from what we?ve discovered from a lab perspective.?

However, Motion Potion opted for the sulphate form. Food and beverage consultant Jim Tonkin, former president/CEO of Bioessentials, which launched Motion Potion, says taste can be overcome and the challenge then becomes efficaciousness.

?When sulphate is used as a delivery compound along with glucosamine, there is more glucosamine found in the joint than there is with HCl. The other issue that made us want to use sulphate is because HCl is the acid found in the stomach. What?s the reason to put more of the same acid that?s in your stomach for digestion into your stomach? We didn?t want to have an acid indigestion issue.?

Stability is the stumbling block

The primary concern when integrating glucosamine in any form into a beverage is ensuring the nutrient remains shelf-stable. The challenge is to show it is indeed glucosamine as entered or added, and that it does not degrade, and more importantly if it does not degrade, now that it?s in a liquid, does it still behave the same?

The Merck Index reports that glucosamine is freely soluble but that does not mean it is solution-stable. It?s all too easy to assume there are no issues going from a dry dosage to liquid dosage without compelling stability data and definitive analytical testing confirming the ingredient has retained its structural integrity.

Cargill?s Acidulants group manager Tom Fox says that issue has been overcome on their Regenasure. ?We?ve done some internal accelerated work on stability and we feel comfortable at this point with the current formulas our clients are working on that our product remains stable.?

Joint Juice has been on the market for three years in the US and has just begun national distribution via mainstream supermarkets Safeway and Albertson?s. Communications director Lance Palumbo says they have no concerns over their product?s stabily. ?The worry was that there might be degradation, but in our testing, our glucosamine remains at full strength for the life of the product.?

Others are not so sanguine. Lucio Rovati, MD, is executive medical director of Rotta Research Laboratorium in Milan, Italy, which produces the Dona glucosamine sulphate that is widely recognised as the most researched glucosamine in commerce. He asserts that the technical hurdles in this regard have yet to be overcome.

?At normal, drinkable pH, glucosamine is stable only for a very limited period and thus it is not feasible to prepare a ready-to-drink formulation that contains already dissolved glucosamine,? he says. ?Any glucosamine formulation is not stable in aqueous solution, unless at proper pH conditions that would prevent drinking anyway. The available glucosamines in ready-to-drink formulations available on the market simply do not contain glucosamine.?

The future remains buoyant
While the debate rages over whether glucosamine can be proven to work in a beverage format from a technology standpoint, industry insiders express confidence that the functional beverage category nonetheless remains not merely viable but indeed buoyant.

?I totally believe water is going to be the conduit for the future of delivery of nutrients,? says Tonkin. ?Getting them to taste good and finding those avenues is going to take a lot of R&D and a lot of masking ingredients. Clearly that market is huge.?

?The whole idea of a beverage is to add more flexibility for people to have a choice,? says Cargill?s Rogers. ?Whether it?s their lifestyle, athletics or they don?t want a large pill, a beverage is attractive. Longer term we see these functional foods and beverages being a real growth area for glucosamine, and probably for other dietary supplements.?

?The whole area is really in its infancy,? says Dynamic?s Smith. ?The time will come when Coke and 7-Up will have glucosamine or multi-vitamin beverages. Glucosamine is especially suited because it?s water-soluble, which makes it easy to work with.?

It?s important to note that glucosamine has only recently received mainstream validation as an effective natural nutrient. As other natural agents successfully pass the evidence gauntlet, most of the technical challenges facing formulators will disappear, and more and more beverages will find themselves being employed as delivery systems for these ingredients.

Top 10 supplements in the mass market


in millions $US



Letter vitamins




Glucosamine & chondroitin










Fish oil


Amino acids


Total US supermarkets+drug stores+mass merchandisers except Wal-Mart. Fifty-two weeks ending Jan 5, 2003

Source: Information Resources Inc

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