Easing OA Pain with Glucosamine & Chondroitin

kneesIf you have osteoarthritis (OA), you may be taking glucosamine and chondroitin supplements to help ease the pain, swelling, and stiffness – perhaps on your own, perhaps on a doctor’s recommendation. It’s common treatment that many will swear by.

So what to make of new research that says, “Not so fast, Charlie”?

A study recently published in Arthritis & Rheumatology found that a placebo was actually more effective than glucosamine and chondroitin for reducing pain associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.

This randomized, double-blind trial involved 164 men and women at 9 rheumatology centers and one orthopedic surgery center, all in Spain. Some were given a daily dose of 1500 mg of glucosamine and 1200 mg of chondroitin. Others got identical-looking placebos. Patients reported their pain according to a global pain scale.

After 6 months, the supplement group’s pain scores were 19% lower than at the start. For those who took the placebo, it was 33%.

More, the researchers found no difference in knee function between the two groups. According to the New York Times,

“A lot of money is spent on these drugs, and people have thought they were useful to decrease pain and increase function,” said the senior author, Dr. Gabriel Herrero-Beaumont, a professor of medicine at the Autonomous University of Madrid. “But it’s difficult to demonstrate that they work. We have not found any kind of pharmacological effect of these drugs.”

But this is hardly the study to call the science settled. It has some very big limitations, starting with its small size. Also, patients were allowed to use acetaminophen “as needed” for pain, and most of them did take it. While this is allowed in all osteoarthritis trials, it also complicates the picture quite a bit.

More, the dropout rate due to adverse effects was considerably higher in the supplement group than in the placebo group (31 vs. 18%) – “a factor,” the authors noted, “that may [have] interfere[d] with the patient’s global pain assessment.” The use of once-a-day dosing could also explain the difference between these results and those of previous studies. Previous research dosed twice a day.

In the face of that previous research and both clinical and anecdotal evidence of the benefits of glucosamine and chondroitin for OA, more research is needed to determine conclusively where this new study fits in the big picture. After all, these supplements have been recognized since the 1970s as an effective treatment for joint pain. Other recent studies have supported this.

So if you’re using this supplemental combo and find it works to relieve your joint pain and enhance knee function, there’s no reason to stop what you’re doing. Go for it. Each of us is, after all, an ongoing experiment of one.

Image by mcmrbt, via Flickr