By: Laurie Edwards for Knee1
With all the recent debate about the safety of arthritis pain relievers, both patients and physicians alike hoped the popular nutritional supplements glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate would prove to be successful alternatives. In fact, an estimated five million people already take the supplements.
|Managing your pain|
Since osteoarthritis affects weight-bearing joints, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are key ways to help prevent or minimize osteoarthritis.
Always consult your physician before you make any changes to your treatment plan.
For people with more severe pain, nutritional supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate reduced symptoms, but for milder pain they were ineffective.
To learn more about osteoarthritis, visit the Arthritis Foundation
But don’t rush to the store just yet. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that the supplements did little to provide relief from the pain of osteoarthritis. In an interesting twist, however, patients with more advanced knee pain reported some improvement in their symptoms.
Glucosamine is an amino sugar produced by the body that is found in connective tissues, while chondroitin sulfate is a complex carbohydrate that helps cartilage retain water.
“For the study population as a whole, supplements were found to be ineffective. An exploratory analysis suggested, however, that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate might be effective in patients who suffer from moderate to severe osteoarthritis knee pain,” said principal investigator Dr. Daniel O. Clegg.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis and is a chronic condition characterized by the debilitation of the cartilage that cushions joints. An estimated 21 million people suffer from osteoarthritis, which can cause stiffness, pain and inflammation as the bones begin to rub together and cartilage wears down. It most commonly affects weight-bearing joints like hips, knees and the lower back.
As baby boomers age, the number of people afflicted with osteoarthritis is expected to double.
This latest study – known as the Glucosamine/Chrondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT) – included almost 1,600 patients, most of whom classified their knee pain as mild. It followed participants randomly assigned to a placebo group, a group taking the pain reliever Celebrex, groups taking either glucosamine or chondrotin sulfate and groups taking a combination of both.
Of all groups, the participants taking Celebrex reported the most relief from pain; 70 percent reported relief. Meanwhile glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate improved pain symptoms in 64 percent and 67 percent of patients, respectively. Research is under way to examine the continued safety of Celebrex.
For patients with more pronounced knee pain, though, using both supplements at the same time proved more effective than a placebo; 79 percent of those patients reported significant pain reduction.
Experts noted that the unusually high rate of pain relief from the placebo group – 60 percent, nearly double the usual rate – should be considered when interpreting the results.
Another factor to consider as you map out your treatment plan is that the supplement industry is very loosely regulated and companies do not have to prove their products are safe and effective, underscoring the need for continued research in this area.
“I urge people with osteoarthritis to follow a comprehensive plan for managing their arthritis pain. Developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key to the successful management of osteoarthritis – eat right, exercise regularly, lose excess weight and consider the use of medications based on your degree of pain,” said Dr. Clegg.