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Glucosamine Stops Knee Arthritis in Women

Supplement Likely Benefits All Types of People, All Joints, Say Researchers
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WebMD Health News

March 15, 2004 -- The popular supplement glucosamine could do more than just ease arthritis knee pain. New research indicates that it may actually stop disease progression -- and possibly reverse it.

In the latest of an ongoing series of studies, European researchers studied the effect of glucosamine specifically in postmenopausal women already diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis. After age 50, knee osteoarthritis becomes more common in women -- possibly because of waning estrogen levels although medical research has not yet shown that, say the researchers. Osteoarthritis, caused by degeneration of cartilage that occurs with age, is the most common type of arthritis.

"What we found in studying postmenopausal women is what we found with our other population groups -- glucosamine sulfate certainly prevents the destruction of cartilage, slows progression of osteoarthritis, and improves symptoms of the disease," researcher Lucio C. Rovati, MD, of the University of Milano, tells WebMD. "And it may also rebuild cartilage in some people."

His new findings, published in the March/April issue of Menopause, come from two studies involving 414 women with knee osteoarthritis, most of whom had already experienced menopause. Half took 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine sulfate daily while the other women took a placebo. After three years, those taking glucosamine had experienced no further loss of cartilage as measured by knee X-rays, whereas the placebo group continued to experience cartilage destruction.

In addition, pain and function significantly improved among the women taking glucosamine compared with the placebo group where there was no such improvement in knee stiffness seen.

This improvement is of major clinical significance in terms of well-being, says Rovati, a professor of pharmacology. "The condition of women taking a placebo pill, meanwhile, worsened."

In previous studies, published in Archives of Internal Medicine and The Lancet, Rovati's team -- who include researchers from Belgium and the Czech Republic -- found similar levels of improvements when the same daily dosage was given to men and younger women with knee osteoarthritis.

What makes his new findings so important is that following menopause, rates of knee arthritis skyrocket in women. Up until now, that group of women had not been specifically studied, although postmenopausal women have been included in previous studies.

"There is certainly a good reason to believe that estrogens are important for cartilage, and this continues to be an active area of interest -- determining exactly how menopause impacts osteoarthritis," says John H. Klippel, MD, head of the Arthritis Foundation.

"What's really unique about this study is that they are able to look at a relatively homogeneous population -- postmenopausal women, as opposed to the whole world of osteoarthritis -- and have been able to confirm that in this population, glucosamine improves function and retards (measurable disease) progression."

All Joints Can Benefit

Rovati says his findings are the latest to show what his research team has long suspected: "Based on our studies and others, it appears that everyone with knee osteoarthritis can benefit from glucosamine sulfate," he tells WebMD. "And we suspect that this data can be transferable to all weight-bearing joints. The reason we and others primarily study knee osteoarthritis is because it's the most common type and there are more patients."

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