Study Raises New Questions About Glucosamine
March 14, 2000 (Atlanta) -- It's a rainy day in Omaha, and Betty Rindone's
knees and hips are bothering her. "It's 100% humidity," she tells
WebMD. "I can always tell."
After she had been plagued by years of minor aches and pains, Betty's knee
gave out four years ago. "I just went down," she remembers. "By the
time we got home, my thigh was really hurting." X-rays showed an arthritic
knee and hip.
On the advice of her pharmacist son, Rindone began taking glucosamine
sulfate, a dietary supplement widely touted as helping to decrease pain and
joint deterioration caused by osteoarthritis. She took it along with an
anti-inflammatory medication, gave it three months to work, and got little more
than an uncomfortable side effect (constipation). "I didn't see any
difference," says Rindone, 71. "My leg still hurt and hurt."
A recent study suggests that a certain segment of arthritic people -- those
who are older and heavier and have suffered from arthritis for a long time --
may get no relief at all from the supplement. Published in the Western
Journal of Medicine, the study found glucosamine to be no more effective
than a placebo in reducing arthritis pain, says study author Joseph P. Rindone,
PharmD. Rindone is a researcher with the VA Medical Center in Prescott, Ariz.,
and is Betty Rindone's son.
The study looked at a group of 98 patients, all veterans, with an average
age of 65, who were being treated for osteoarthritis of the knee. For two
months, the volunteers received 500 mg of glucosamine three times daily or a
sugar pill. At the end of the first and second months, the volunteers' pain
intensity was measured while they were walking and resting. No significant
differences in pain levels were noted in either the glucosamine or the placebo
group, Joseph Rindone says.
"We went into the study thinking the stuff would help," he tells
WebMD. "It didn't come out that way at all. We tried to figure out why. Our
patients were definitely older than previous studies, heavier (with an average
weight of 200 pounds), and seemed to have had arthritis forever, 40 or 50
years. Our patients also had severe arthritis. It's somewhat suggestive that
people with long-standing arthritis don't respond to glucosamine."
Many people who, like Betty Rindone, were dissatisfied with glucosamine,
have had better results with the lesser known glucosamine-chondroitin
combination. The two supplements are said to have a heightened effect when
taken together. Brian Cole, MD, director of cartilage restoration at
Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, tells WebMD, "They
seem to increase the amount of normal cartilage without toxicity or side
effects." Cartilage is missing or destroyed in the joints of people with
For many elderly people, cost is an important issue in choosing between the
two supplement regimens. "The chondroitin combination is fairly
pricey," says Rindone.