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Supplement May Ease Pain of Hand Osteoarthritis

Study Suggests Chondroitin Sulfate Decreases Pain and Improves Stiffness

Different Studies, Different Results

The study was funded by the Swiss drug-maker IBSA Switzerland, which markets the widely prescribed chondroitin sulfate drug Condrosulf in Europe.

Gabay said the company had no influence on the design of the trial or the analysis of the findings.

But osteoarthritis and lupus specialist Sharon L. Kolasinski, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania, says the fact that the trial study was funded makes it more difficult to interpret the results.

"Unfortunately, this fits a pattern," she tells WebMD. "What we have seen with both glucosamine and chondroitin over the years is that the European studies, which are often funded by manufacturers, tend to show positive results, while studies with funding from other sources are less positive."

One of the largest studies of chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine for the treatment of osteoarthritis pain was conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

The Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT), published in 2006, found chondroitin combined with glucosamine to be somewhat effective for the treatment of moderate-to-severe osteoarthritis-related knee pain.

But the supplements, either given together or alone, failed to show significant benefits for other patients and were less effective for managing pain in these patients than the pain reliever Celebrex.

Variation in Supplements

Kolasinski, who is a spokeswoman for the American College of Rheumatology, says because chondroitin sulfate is not regulated as a drug in the U.S. patients can't be sure they are getting what they are paying for when they buy the supplements.

Several studies have found a wide variation in the dosage of the cartilage component in different over-the-counter brands of chondroitin sulfate.

But Kolasinski does not discourage her osteoarthritis patients from trying chondroitin sulfate or glucosamine because she says both have been shown to be safe, even if their efficacy remains unproven, over many years of use.

"We really don't have good drugs that are free of side effects, so it makes sense that patients would want to try these supplements," she says. "But the usual pattern I see is that patients who take them eventually stop because the effect is not very impressive over the long term."

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