THURSDAY, Sept. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Although millions take
supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin to relieve the
pain of osteoarthritis in their hips and knees, there is no
evidence that these supplements have any healing effect, finds a
new analysis of large-scale studies.
This latest report is one of several that have found no
beneficial effect of either supplement in relieving arthritic pain.
But since there is no evidence that the pills cause harm, the new
report's authors say there's no reason to stop taking them if
individuals think they are being helped.
On the other hand, "if a patient hasn't had these preparations
[already], it doesn't make sense that he or she should be
encouraged to take these supplements," said lead researcher Dr.
Peter Juni, head of the division of Clinical Epidemiology and
Biostatistics at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at
the University of Bern in Switzerland.
The bottom line, according to Juni: "None of the two supplements
we evaluated appears to have any clinically relevant benefit in
terms of pain relief that could be detected by patients with knee
or hip arthritis."
The report is published in the Sept. 17 online edition of the
Over the past 10 years doctors have prescribed supplemental
glucosamine and chondroitin and many millions around the world have
bought them over-the-counter, the researchers said.
According to background information in the study, in 2008 sales
of glucosamine supplements around the world reached almost $2
billion -- about a 60 percent increase since 2003.
For the new study, Juni's team analyzed the results of 10
randomized clinical trials involving more than 3,800 patients with
knee or hip osteoarthritis. The trials -- which all compared people
taking the supplements to a control group that was not taking them
-- focused on any changes in levels of pain after patients took
glucosamine, chondroitin or both, comparing them with the placebo
or with each other.
Poring through all the data, the researchers found no clinically
relevant effect of chondroitin, glucosamine or both taken together
on joint pain or on narrowing the space within the painful
Commenting on the study, Dr. Andrew Sherman, associate professor
and vice-chair, department of rehabilitation medicine at the
University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, said that
"we need to look more closely at these over-the-counter medications
that claim to be panaceas and may not be giving us our money's
For his part, Juni said that, "if the patient already has had
the preparations and really believes in a benefit -- which is most
likely related to the natural history of the disease or to a
placebo effect -- in light of the fact that we don't have any
evidence that these preparations are unsafe, there is no real
reason to actively discourage these patients from taking these
preparations as long as they can cover the cost."
Sherman agreed that some people report these supplements help
"Is it that they want it to help so bad or so much that they actually feel better, and that's a placebo effect? Or is it able to help a small minority of folks, just not a majority of people?" he said.
Since there appears to be no negative consequence to taking
these supplements (except cost) there appears to be no harm in
doing so, Sherman said.
The study does suggest, however, that the claims that the
companies who produce the supplements are making "need to be
reevaluated, scrutinized and criticized until such time as a large
study shows that the medication works," Sherman said. "At this time
no such study exists."
For more information on arthritis, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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