While the Australian Rheumatology Association has warned people to stop taking glucosamine, other advice is not so clear-cut.
Arthritis Australia reports glucosamine is a relatively safe treatment option for people with osteoarthritis and has relatively few side-effects compared with traditional medicines.
They are touted not only as arthritis pain relievers but also as treatments to prevent joint disease. Yet, a number of past studies have come to mixed conclusions — some small studies found that people felt better taking glucosamine and/or chondroitin, but at least as many have found no benefit.
The upshot? “I tell people that if they want to spend their money” on glucosamine or MSM, “that’s up to them,” said Dr. Michael Parks, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, who frequently treats patients with arthritis. At recommended doses, the supplements “are generally safe,” he said, “and some people do say that they make them feel better.”
If you're among the estimated 27 million Americans who suffer from osteoarthritis of the knee or hip, then perhaps you've tried the nutritional supplements glucosamine and chondroitin. They've been marketed for joint health for about 20 years, and sales are still brisk. But do they help?
Some horses might say yes. The supplements were first tried in horses, and there's some evidence that the supplements might improve joint function for them.
Glucosamine and chondroitin are also marketed to dog owners. But what about us humans? Unfortunately, researchers say that for us the results just don't match the glowing testimonials.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are natural substances found in and around the cells of cartilage. Glucosamine is an amino sugar that the body produces and distributes in cartilage and other connective tissue, and chondroitin sulfate is a complex carbohydrate that helps cartilage retain water. In the United States, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are sold as dietary supplements, which are regulated as foods rather than drugs.
Pooled results from studies using a non-Rotta preparation or adequate allocation concealmentThis is a process used in studies that involve different groups receiving different interventions or treatment. Ideally, allocation to the different groups is done in such a way that the participants, and the health care providers, do not know which intervention the participant is to receive. The intention is to avoid bias during the allocation process so that the intervention and control groups are as similar as possible. failed to show benefit in pain and WOMAC function while those studies evaluating the Rotta preparation showed that glucosamine was superior to placebo in the treatment of pain and functional impairment resulting from symptomatic OA.
Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate alone or in combination did not reduce pain effectively in the overall group of patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Exploratory analyses suggest that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate may be effective in the subgroup of patients with moderate-to-severe knee pain.
If you've been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, there's a strong chance that you were advised to rest, limit your activities and use anti-inflammatory drugs to treat the symptoms of pain and inflammation. However, in our 25 years of treating people with osteoarthritis, we have learned that there are some major flaws in this advice.
The exact reason for the link is not known, but the researchers suggest that glucosamine may reduce inflammation by lowering blood levels of C reactive protein, an indicator of inflammation, or by mimicking the effect of a low-carbohydrate diet, which some studies have suggested is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
The researchers note that effectiveness of glucosamine in patients with osteoarthritis and joint pain continues to be debated.
For years, glucosamine has been marketed as a treatment for osteoarthritis, which can occur when the protective cartilage in the joints wears down over time.
This is despite conflicting evidence on whether the supplement works. Yet many patients may buy glucosamine, presuming that even if it doesn’t help, at least it’s “natural” and so won’t do any harm.
Pharmaceutical companies have been promoting glucosamine supplements as a treatment for osteoarthritis for many years. Taking glucosamine for osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of complementary medicine in western societies.
Science only supports three treatments for knee pain, as physician Harriet Hall summarized in her recent blog post: exercise, weight loss, and NSAIDs. The "alternatives" described by CNN, no matter how appealing they sound, are a waste of time and money.
Just about everyone you know who exercises or has joint pain has taken glucosamine at one time or another, and most people swear by it. Yet recently several studies have demonstrated that the benefits of glucosamine are overrated. So, are you wasting your money?
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has stated that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of glucosamine in osteoarthritis and recommends that it should not be funded by the NHS.