Study suggests glucosamine no better than placebo for osteoarthritis

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The British Medical Journal has published online the results of a study in the effectiveness of glucosamine, chondroitin or placebo on patients with osteoarthritis of hip or knee. The study looked at published trials and used the data to see how effective these supplements were in relieving symptoms.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are widely advertised and sold as treatments for osteoarthritis and other arthritic conditions. Taken as supplements, glucosamine which is found naturally in the joints, is claimed to stimulate the production of connective tissue to help prevent the bones rubbing. Chondroitin is claimed to stimulate the production of cartilage and combined together with glucosamine helps to maintain healthy joints.

In the study the main area that was looked at was the intensity of pain, with a secondary outcome of joint space. The study looked at trials which included more than 200 patients in each that included glucosamine or choddroitin and their combination with placebo or as direct head-to-head trials.

The 10 trials which had a total of 3803 patients, showed that compared with placebo glucosamine and chondroitin or in combination do not reduce pain or have any impact on the space within a joint.

Professor Peter Juni who is head of division at the Institute of Social Preventive Medicine, University of Bern in Switzerland and one of the study authors told the BBC Radio Today programme that:

“…these supplements show no benefit for osteoarthritis in the hip or knee..”

although he did add

“…although they don’t benefit a patient, they won’t cause any harm, so if a patient feels better, then there is no reason to stop taking these supplements, even though they are probably wasting their money…”

One recommendation from the report was that health authorities and insurers should no longer pay for these supplements and new prescriptions should be discouraged.

If you are currently taking either of these supplements, you may wish speak to your healthcare provider about how to proceed.

British Medical Journal (BMJ)
British Broadcast Corporation (BBC)

A full version of the study is available free online at:
www. bmj .com

BMJ assessed online 17 September 2010