Alternative Ways to Easing Arthritis Pain
Experts look at the pros and cons of alternative arthritis therapies.
Helpful, Healthy Supplements? continued...
In 2003, an analysis of 15 studies of glucosamine and chondroitin was
published in Archives of Internal Medicine. The studies involved a
total of 1,775 patients - 1,020 taking glucosamine and 755 taking
Researchers found "significant changes" in the symptoms of patients
taking them - pain, stiffness, physical functioning, and joint mobility; no
placebo group showed that kind of improvement. Glucosamine significantly
improved joint space narrowing; it also helped slow the progression of
osteoarthritis, researchers found.
Taking at least 1,500 milligrams of oral glucosamine sulfate for at least
three years was the most effective in slowing the degenerative process, they
reported. While there were similar findings on chondroitin, those findings were
not as clear-cut. Overall safety of both glucosamine and chondroitin can be
considered "excellent," according to researchers.
More recently, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health looked
only at pain reduction from glucosamine-chondroitin supplements. The study was
conducted at 16 sites across the country -- and was the most rigorous
examination of the widely used supplements ever done, according to researchers,
whose study appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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