Popular supplements to combat joint pain do not work

Sep 17, 2010

Two popular supplements taken by millions of people around the world to combat joint pain, do not work, finds research published in the British Medical Journal today.

The , and , are either taken on their own or in combination to reduce the pain caused by in hips and knees.

The researchers, led by Professor Peter Jüni at the University of Bern in Switzerland, argue that given these supplements are not dangerous "we see no harm in having patients continue these preparations as long as they perceive a benefit and cover the cost of treatment themselves."

However, they add: "Health authorities and health insurers should not cover the costs for these preparations, and new prescriptions to patients who have not received treatment should be discouraged."

Osteoarthritis of the hip or knee is a chronic condition which is mainly treated with painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs but these can cause stomach and , especially if used long-term. Treatments that not only reduce pain but slow the progression of the disease would be desirable, say the authors.

In the last decade, GPs and rheumatologists have increasingly prescribed glucosamine and chondroitin to their patients. And many individuals around the world have purchased them over the counter. In 2008 global sales of glucosamine supplements reached almost $2bn, which represents an increase of about 60% since 2003.

The authors say that results from existing trials about the effectiveness of glucosamine and chondroitin are conflicting. A large scale review of studies was therefore needed to determine whether or not the supplements work.

Professor Jüni and colleagues analysed the results of 10 published trials involving 3,803 patients with knee or hip osteoarthritis. They assessed changes in levels of pain after patients took glucosamine, chondroitin, or their combination with placebo or head to head.

They found no clinically relevant effect of chondroitin, glucosamine, or their combination on perceived joint pain or on joint space narrowing.

Despite this finding, some patients are convinced that these preparations are beneficial, say the authors. They suggest this might be because of the natural course of osteoarthritis or the placebo effect.

"Compared with placebo, glucosamine, chondroitin, and their combination do not reduce or have an impact on narrowing of joint space. Health authorities and health insurers should be discouraged from funding glucosamine and chondroitin treatment," they conclude.

Explore further: Deaths from narcotic painkillers quadrupled in past decade, CDC reports

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New test to diagnose osteoarthritis early

Aug 20, 2008

A newly developed medical imaging technology may provide doctors with a long-awaited test for early diagnosis of osteoarthritis (OA), scientists from New York reported today at the 236th National Meeting of the American Chemical ...

TENS for osteoarthritis: Not enough evidence to recommend

Oct 07, 2009

Despite twenty years of research on the use of electrostimulation techniques (TENS) for treatment of osteoarthritis in the knee, researchers still cannot say whether it reduces pain or physical disability. This is the conclusion ...

Recommended for you

Big cities take aim at prescription painkillers

22 hours ago

Some of the nation's largest cities are ratcheting up their criticism of prescription painkillers, blaming the industry for a wave of addiction and overdoses that have ravaged their communities and busted local budgets.

World Health Organization policy improves use of medicines

Sep 16, 2014

In this issue of PLOS Medicine, Kathleen Holloway from WHO and David Henry (University of Toronto, Canada) evaluated data on reported adherence to WHO essential medicines practices and measures of quality use of medicines from 5 ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

dirk_bruere
not rated yet Sep 17, 2010
Well, I certainly find it is far the best placebo that I have tried! So much so that after a couple of weeks of stopping taking it joint pain significantly increases. A couple of weeks after restarting the pain subsides. I have tried this at least three times with similar results.
Curtix
not rated yet Sep 20, 2010
Just wanted to add that the glu,chron,msm stack works on my ankles and shoulders. I takes about 2 weeks to start working and after I go off of it the discomfort returns, maybe a week later. I am supper skeptical and find it odd that it worked so well for me I have recommended it to others.