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Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Are Joint Supplements Effective for Arthritis Pain Relief?

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Updated April 05, 2014

There have been numerous investigations that are focusing on the two primary problems of earlier studies into the supplements glucosamine and chondroitin:
  • Studying more patients
  • Following these patients for a longer period of time
Because osteoarthritis is a chronic disease that progresses slowly over time, in order to test any treatment, a long period of follow-up is necessary. In one recent study, the effects of chondroitin in 372 patients over a minimum three month period was investigated. This study, which combined the data from other smaller studies, found that patients did have an improvement in their symptoms of pain.

There have also been long-term studies lasting over one year into the effects of glucosamine. These studies also have shown mixed results. A three year long European study compared the effects of glucosamine versus placebo in about 200 patients. The group of patients taking glucosamine had less pain than the group of patients taking the placebo.

Should You Be Taking Glucosamine?

Again, the results of studies investigating glucosamine and chondroitin have been mixed, but have not passed the test of a well-designed study to be accepted into the primary treatment plan for osteoarthritis. In fact, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends against glucosamine and chondroitin for treatment of knee osteoarthritis. Furthermore, because these are unregulated supplements, a particular brand of glucosamine or chondroitin may or may not be of satisfactory quality.

Ultimately, what patients should understand, is that glucosamine and chondroitin have shown some evidence that these supplements can provide help with treating pain associated with osteoarthritis. However, these studies have ranged from poor to satisfactory in quality, and in order to be accepted as an effective treatment for osteoarthritis, more research must be completed.

What is known, is that there are effective treatments for osteoarthritis that every patient should be using before considering these supplements. Specifically, recommendations for weight control, exercise, proper use of medications, and joint protection are known to minimize the progression and improve symptoms of osteoarthritis. These steps must be taken by all arthritis patients for optimal treatment to take place.

Sources:

Conn, D, et al.; Alternative Treatments and Rheumatic Disease. Bulletin on the Rheumatic Diseases. 48:1-4. 1999.

Muller-Fasbender, H, et al.; Glucosamine sulfate compared to ibuprofen in osteoarthritis of the knee. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2:61-69. 1994.

Leeb, B, et al.; A Metaanalysis of Chondroitin Sulfate in the Treatment of OA. Journal of Rheumatology. 27:205-211. 2000.

DaCamara and Dowless; Glucosamine Sulfate for Osteoarthritis. The Annals of Pharmacotherapy. 32:580-586. 1998.

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