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Alternative Ways to Easing Arthritis Pain

Experts look at the pros and cons of alternative arthritis therapies.

Helpful, Healthy Supplements? continued...

Called the Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention (GAIT) trial, it involved 1,583 people with osteoarthritis of the knee. They were randomly placed into five different groups -- each group taking either glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, both the supplements, the Cox-2 anti-inflammatory pain reliever Celebrex, or a placebo.

Overall, researchers found no significant pain reduction in the patients taking either supplement alone or combined, or in those patients taking a placebo. The patients with mild pain got no greater pain relief -- whether they took the combination of supplements, just one supplement, or Celebrex -- compared with those taking a placebo.

However, those with moderate to severe knee pain -- who took a combination of the two supplements -- reported significantly greater pain relief, compared with patients taking either Celebrex or a placebo. This group of 354 patients was too small to prove the findings, researchers said.

What should you do? WebMD asked an arthritis expert. "It seems that researchers are having a difficult time confirming the beneficial effects of [glucosamine and chondroitin]," says Robert Hoffman, DO, chief of rheumatology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

"The good news is the supplements seem to be safe [at the standard dosage], but it's not clear that they're beneficial. I don't feel compelled to highly recommend them. But if patients don't mind taking another pill -- and paying for a pill that may or may not help them -- it seems quite reasonable. And really, there isn't anything else that helps slow the progression of osteoarthritis."

Choose Wisely

Because the quality of herbs and supplements can vary, even some of these treatments might not work, cautions Tod Cooperman, MD, president of ConsumerLab.com.

ConsumerLab.com reviewed supplement products touted for their pain-relieving benefits. It found that one product, claiming to contain 500 milligrams per serving of "chondroitin sulfate complex" actually contained less than 90 milligrams of chondroitin sulfate -- only 18% of the 500 milligrams.

"Fortunately, most products contain what they claim," says Cooperman. "But consumers should choose their supplements wisely. If a product is not working, it may be the product itself that is flawed, and not the approach."

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