U study finds popular dietary supplement ineffective in arthritis pain

A U study recently found that the dietary supplements glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate were as effective in relieving mild osteoarthritis pain as a placebo. The study casts serious doubt on the effectiveness of these commonly used dietary supplements.

The study, which was published in the Feb. 23 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, showed that the only people who exhibited some improvement in pain were in a subgroup of people with moderate to severe arthritis.

Daniel Clegg, principal investigator of the study and professor of medicine at the U, said that in the ’90s, “it was attractive to think that ingesting glucosamine and chondroitin would help repair cartilage because they are both components of cartilage,” he said.

However, prior to this study, no research had been done to prove the supplements’ effectiveness.

The study was a five-arm trial, which divided people with osteoarthritis into five different treatment categories. One group was given a placebo, another glucosamine, another was given chondroitin, and the last two groups were given glucosamine and chondroitin or Celebrex, a common medicinal treatment for the disease.

The trial was double blinded, so neither patient nor doctor knew which treatment was being given to each participant.

Participants had to be improved by at least 20 percent to have a successful outcome.

“We found that there was no difference in agent and placebo,” Clegg said. However, Celebrex worked, and a smaller subgroup with moderate to severe arthritis did show some improvement in pain relief using glucosamine and chondroitin.

Joey Nelson, manager of a local nutritional supplement store, said glucosamine and chondroitin are very popular in the store.

“We sell a lot of it for joint pain and to lubricate joints,” Nelson said.

Because of media influences, Nelson said that glucosamine and chondroitin are popular with people of all ages.

“It seems to be broad-many people use (them) as a sports supplement, and the media has made it more and more popular,” Nelson said.

According to Clegg, osteoarthritis is a very common disease in which a person’s cartilage is abnormal and not as resilient. It most commonly occurs in people who are 40 to 50 years old. The chances of getting osteoarthritis dramatically increase with age, and while about 20 million Americans currently have the disease, the number will most likely double by 2020.

Osteoarthritis is most commonly managed by improving muscle mass, losing weight and/or taking over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol and ibuprofen.