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Nutritional Supplements and Osteoarthritis

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Osteoarthritis Treatments

The goals of osteoarthritis treatment are to decrease joint pain and stiffness, improve joint mobility and stability, and increase the ability to perform daily activities. Osteoarthritis is usually treated with medications, exercise, applying heat and cold to the painful joint, use of supportive devices such as crutches or canes, and controlling one's weight. Surgery may help relieve osteoarthritis pain when other treatment options have not been effective.

The type of osteoarthritis treatment prescribed will depend on several factors, including a person's age, activity level, occupation, overall health, medical history, and severity of the condition.

Yet, traditional treatments for osteoarthritis do not change the progression of the disease. Because the breakdown of cartilage is a significant part of osteoarthritis, researchers have been focusing their efforts on finding agents to prevent this breakdown. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates are two nutritional supplements currently being studied to determine their usefulness in treating osteoarthritis.

What Are Glucosamine Sulfate and Chondroitin Sulfate?

Glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate are components of normal cartilage. These nutritional supplements are available in pharmacies and health food stores without a prescription. They are the building blocks for proteoglycans and appear to stimulate chondrocytes to make new collagen and proteoglycans. The supplements are well-tolerated and safe.

Because these supplements stimulate the production of new cartilage components, it is thought that they may be able to help the body repair cartilage damaged by osteoarthritis. However, much of the research on glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate has been done in vitro (in test tubes outside the body) and in animals. To date, there has not been any convincing proof in humans that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates can help rebuild cartilage or prevent damage to cartilage.

How Can Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfates Help Osteoarthritis?

Although it has not been proven that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates rebuild cartilage, there is evidence from a small number of patients that these compounds can reduce osteoarthritis pain, usually within several weeks to months after initiating therapy. An increasing number of osteoarthritis patients are trying glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates.

The safety and long-term effectiveness of glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate for osteoarthritis needs to be confirmed by larger studies.

The supplements are marketed under different names, with different strengths and levels of purity. Unfortunately at this time, there is no government monitoring to ensure the purity of these products.

It is important to consult with your doctor before starting any new osteoarthritis treatments. Your doctor can review the other drugs you are taking and help you decide whether or not these supplements are right for you. In addition, always follow the instructions on the medication label. Do not take more of the supplements than is recommended.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on July 23, 2012
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