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Knee Arthritis: Supplements May Not Help

Glucosamine, Chondroitin No Better Than Placebo in Study

Glucosamine, Chondroitin Used by Millions continued...

The X-ray protocol used to measure osteoarthritis progression also proved to be less than optimal, says Josephine Briggs, MD, who directs the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which co-sponsored the study.

Briggs tells WebMD that better ways of measuring osteoarthritis progression may be on the horizon, including the use of MRI.

"To really understand the promise of these interventions our measures must be maximally sensitive," she says.

The latest GAIT findings appear in the October issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

What Should Patients Do?

Roughly 21 million American have osteoarthritis. While many patients end up having surgery to replace worn-out knees, Sawitzke says there are few nonsurgical treatments that address disease progression.

"Right now we essentially have nothing to offer," he says.

He recommends that people who want to try one of the supplements use glucosamine alone rather than glucosamine and chondroitin because there is some evidence that glucosamine absorption is compromised with the combination treatment.

"I tell my patients who want to take it for pain to try it for a few weeks or a month," he says. "That should be long enough to tell if it is working for you."

The GAIT study and others suggest that glucosamine and chondroitin are safe supplements, but Briggs says patients who take them or any supplement should always discuss it with their doctor.

She says more than two out of three adults in the U.S. use some type of complementary or alternative medicine, but only about one in three tell their physicians about it.

"It is important to discuss any medication you take with your doctor, including complementary and alternative medicines," she says.

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