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Chondroitin sulfate falls into a category of compounds known as "glycosaminoglycans" - basically a long chain of specialized polysaccharides (or sugars) . In the body, chondroitin is used as a building block for larger structures known as proteoglycans - which are in turn used to form connective tissues such as cartilage. Chondroitin is related in structure and function to another sugar derivative, glucosamine, both of which are widely used as dietary supplements to nourish joint cartilage.
Now that a bit more is known about the effectiveness of chondroitin sulfate, it appears that the supplements can indeed result in a reduction in the pain associated with osteoarthritis (following about 2-4 months of treatment) .