I recently read a high quality review of several studies that looked at the potential benefits of Glucosamine, Chondroitin or some combination of the two that was published in the British Medical Journal in September of 2010. During the last ten years numerous health professionals have recommended these over the counter supplements for patients suffering from ostearthritis. The main focus of these studies was either a reduction in pain levels or improved cartilage thickness. Both Chondroitin and Glucosamine are found in the body and assist in cartilage function. The general theory is that if taken orally Chondroitin and Glucosamine would be introduced into the joints and improve joint function resulting in less pain. A local orthopedic surgeon who is a friend of mine has always believed this thought rationale is flawed. He feels it is similar to thinking that “chopping up a heart and eating it thinking it will help with heart disease”.
Each of studies included had to have the following parameters:
- Greater than 100 patients with hip or knee osteoarthritis
- > 800mg of Chondroitin
- > 1500 of Glucosamines
- 10 studies included and total of 3803 patients included in all studies
- Average age of patients 58-66 years old
- One to 36 months length of study
Unfortunately, the analysis of multiple studies demonstrated limited improvement in pain or joint space narrowing
My advice to my patients when choosing whether to take either Glucosamine or Chondroitin is to realize it does not appear to help in osteoarthritic symptoms but seems to have limited side effects. The effectiveness of these supplements takes 2 to 3 months see an effect and I recommend stopping at 6 months of taking supplements for one to two months to gauge if it is working. There are wide differences in the quality and strength of supplements so it is difficult to advise which supplement provider to use. Always check with your primary care physician prior to taking any over the counter medication or supplement. Anything you ingest can have an effect on your body even if it isn’t prescribed.