Does Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate really work? I don’t know a week that goes by in my practice where I don’t get a comment from one of my patients about this supplement. Some of my patients swear by it and others don’t think it’s worth the breath it takes to talk about it. So I decided to do some research into the subject to help to clarify things with my patients.
The first article I found in my research was performed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This study showed that the supplement helped those individuals with moderate to severe pain from osteoarthritis of the knee, but did little to improve those with mild pain from the knee arthritis. You can click here to see the link: http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/feb2006/nccam-22.htm. Another study that was performed in Canada and published in the Arthritis Research & Therapy journal found that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate improved some of the bony changes that occur in patients with osteoarthritis. This shows that the supplements have a positive effect on arthritic joints.
Another article I read on chiroweb.com stated that Glucosamine sulfate has been the subject of more than 300 scientific investigations and over 20 double-blind clinical studies. The site cited a recent meta-analysis of glucosamine clinical trials in the treatment of osteoarthritis. In this meta-analysis there were 13 studies that met the inclusion criteria for double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of greater than four weeks’ duration; using global pain score or the Lequesne index joint as the primary outcome measure and considered the trial positive if improvement in the treatment group was equal to or greater than 25 percent compared with the placebo group. This meta-analysis revealed that glucosamine supplementation reduced the symptoms and signs of osteoarthritis by 40.2 percent on average, compared with the placebo.
Another study that was performed by Reginster, et al., in 1999 and 2001, published in Arthritis and Rheumatology (1999;42, supplement) and Lancet (2001;357). The three-year randomized study by Dr. Reginster was a large analysis that was placebo-controlled, double-blind, and prospective in nature. It involved 212 patients with knee osteoarthritis. Weightbearing and anteroposterior radiographs of each knee were obtained at one and three years, and joint space width was also measured. Symptom and functional status were scored every four months using the Western Ontario and McMaster University Osteoarthritis index. The two groups had comparable baseline status, but after three years there was no further joint space narrowing in the glucosamine group. The placebo group had further joint space narrowing and objective evidence of disease progression. Subject symptoms worsened in the placebo group, but the group taking glucosamine realized a marked reduction in symptoms of osteoarthritis over the three-year period. The authors concluded that glucosamine sulfate supplementation significantly reduced progression of knee osteoarthritis. Patients in the glucosamine group did not experience any untoward side-effects.
So where does all of this information leave us? There are a number of studies out there showing glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplementation helps reduce the progression of osteoarthritis and does not have any of the side effects that the medications for that condition has. To me, that’s a significant plus when it comes to dealing with a condition that affects so many and has no known cure. The main things I tell my patients when they’re considering taking any supplement…make sure the supplement is high quality – not all supplements are made the same. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the U.S. so what’s on the label may not be what’s in the pill. The best thing is to buy your supplements from a reputable company. Also, most supplements take at least 3 months to make a difference in your body, so give them time. With glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate we’re looking for it to make changes to an actual joint – that takes time. If you have any comments of your own about these supplements, we’d love to hear from you.