Chondroitin sulphate is naturally found in cartilage and connective tissues in the human body. It is a complex sugar, and it helps to keep cartilage elastic by retaining water. It is being researched for its role in the treatment of osteoarthritis and related conditions, where early results have been promising.
The chondroitin you can buy as a supplement is usually either synthetically created, or taken from shark cartilage. It appears to work in a number of ways, including inhibiting the enzymes which contribute to cartilage damage, and it has an overall anti-inflammatory effect in the human body. Chondroitin appears not only to protect cartilage but also to stimulate healing where cartilage has already been damaged.
Chondroitin is also used in some wound dressings, particularly for veterinary purposes.
As a supplement, chondroitin is frequently combined with glucosamine, which is also known to have joint protective properties.
Chondroitin has other uses too, beyond those related to joints. It can be used with iron to treat anaemia, and it is also thought to be effective in improving certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis. Chondroitin is also available in eye drop form, where it is believed to help relieve dry eyes, and it is sometimes used in cataract surgery.