Science

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Glucosamine and Chondroitin May Not Slow Arthritis

October 01, 2008 12:00 PM
by Emily Coakley
A new study casts doubt on whether supplements glucosamine and chondroitin help people with arthritis, though investigators say more research is needed.

Slowing Cartilage Loss, Relieving Pain

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Results from the glucosamine/chondroitin arthritis intervention trial, or GAIT, has found that glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, or both supplements together, don’t seem to slow cartilage loss better than a placebo, Reuters reports. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are popular supplements for people with joint pain or arthritis.

The study was published in the October issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism, and was supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health. According to Reuters, earlier results from GAIT in 2006 suggested glucosamine only helped relieve pain for a small group of people.

But researchers said the most recent results weren’t entirely clear; volunteers who took placebos lost less cartilage than expected.

Tony Rankin, president of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, in an interview with USA Today, said though the studies are inconclusive, he believes several patients who say glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate relieve their pain.

Michael Shafer, an orthopedic surgeon in Chicago, said that people who get no pain relief from the supplements after taking them for a month should stop. “[Y]ou’re wasting your money,” he told USA Today.
Some also encourage glucosamine use in another species. A column on the Web site of The Horse, a magazine on equine health care, quotes Sheila Laverty, MVB, an equine surgery professor at the University of Montreal, as saying “A growing body of in vitro evidence shows that glucosamine may have anti-inflammatory effects in equine joints (cartilage and synovial membrane) at currently used doses. Whether these effects prevent cartilage degradation remains to be proven.”

Stacey Oke, the veterinarian who wrote the column, said of joint supplements such as glucosamine, “mounting research seems to be proving … that there is more to these products than meets the eye.”

Opinion & Analysis: Cartilage loss vs. pain control

Dr. Michael Douglas, writing on the blog Doctor Pundit, said despite the GAIT results, chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine may be useful for some patients.

“[I]f the benefit is pain control, then the results of this trial don’t matter as much,” Douglas wrote.

Reference: Arthritis, Medication and Alternative Medicine Web Guides

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