Dietary Supplements: Glucosamine and Arthritis

Most arthritis supplements contain glucosamine, a compound made by our bodies that helps form cartilage. Yet 25 randomized controlled trials over the last 33 years haven’t produced a consensus about whether glucosamine pills are more effective than a placebo.

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“Glucosamine doesn’t work, period,” says David Felson of the Boston University School of Medicine. Not so certain is Roland Moskowitz of the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

“There are reasons to think that it may help, and some studies that suggest it does,” he counters. Yet Moskowitz helped run the National Institutes of Health’s GAIT trial, which found that glucosamine doesn’t work.

One reason for the uncertainty: there are two forms of glucosamine. Glucosamine hydrochloride–the kind in most supplements and the one used in the GAIT trial—was no better than a placebo in three studies.

Glucosamine sulfate, on the other hand, seems to relieve pain and improve function, according to the Cochrane Collaboration, a network of scientists who review the evidence for medical therapies.

But all nine trials that found a benefit were funded and run by the supplement industry, usually by the Italian manufacturer of one glucosamine sulfate formulation. In the three trials that were conducted by independent investigators, glucosamine sulfate was no better than a placebo.

Despite the lack of evidence, Felson doesn’t talk his patients out of trying glucosamine. “If they think something is working and it’s not dangerous, I don’t discourage its use.”

Sources: New Engl. J. Med. 354: 795, 2006; Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. 2009. CD002946; Arthritis Rheum. 56: 2267, 2007.

 

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3 Replies to “Dietary Supplements: Glucosamine and Arthritis”

  1. And what about Glucosamine Condroitin? I was having so much pain, in my thumbs especially, and also lesser pain in the joints of both hands. I started taking Glucosamine Condroitin and now all the pain is so much less. I can now open a can with a hand held can opener whereas before I was using only an electric can opener.

    1. Yes, what about the chrondroitin and the MSM? Do they work? I have heard about the benefits of hyaluronic acid in helping painful joints, but it would be nice to know what works and what doesn’t.

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