As the years and miles go by, a backpacker's load-bearing joints (primarily the knees and hips) start to suffer when cartilage-the cushioning between bones-wears down. The result can be osteoarthritis, the most common cause of joint pain. To cope with the discomfort, most middle-aged hikers chomp on pain killers, which do nothing to halt cartilage deterioration.
What may help in the long run, according to recent research, is glucosamine. This substance occurs naturally in our bodies, and when it's taken as a supplement, it is absorbed by the cartilage. In a study of more than 100 people with mild to moderate osteoarthritis, those who took 1,500 mg of glucosamine a day for 3 years experienced a 20 to 25 percent reduction in pain and disability compared to a group that took a placebo. No adverse side effects were reported.
Glucosamine supplements are often sold in combination with chondroitin sulfate, another substance your body produces to help form cartilage. However, many scientists believe very little supplemental chondroitin is absorbed by the human body, and when added to glucosamine, it greatly increases the price. If you decide to give glucosamine a try (with your doctor's approval), buy it without chondroitin.