Researchers are patting themselves on the back for finally proving that the popular arthritis supplements glucosamine and chondroitin don’t work. Too bad physicians don’t have much else that eases pain without causing serious side effects.
The latest analysis is from the British journal BMJ (online, Sept. 16, 2010). Investigators reviewed 10 studies that covered 3,800 subjects. They concluded, “Compared with placebo, glucosamine, chondroitin, and their combination do not reduce joint pain or have an impact on narrowing of joint space.”
This comes on the heels of a Norwegian study that investigated the benefits of glucosamine for lower back pain due to spinal osteoarthritis (Journal of the American Medical Association, July 7, 2010). Six months of glucosamine was no more helpful than placebo in that study either.
Many health professionals get a certain amount of pleasure from studies that show an alternative therapy is ineffective. They may feel vindicated when a pill that was not FDA-approved turns out to be no more helpful than an inactive placebo.
Even FDA-approved treatments for osteoarthritis are not above question, however. Doctors have prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for decades. The assumption is that they are effective for joint pain and relatively benign. The data on many of these drugs are not as convincing as many health professionals assume.
For one thing, there are surprisingly few long-term trials of NSAIDs. That’s a disappointment for drugs that may be taken for months or years. A meta-analysis of 23 studies involving more than 10,000 patients concluded, “NSAIDs can reduce short-term pain in osteoarthritis of the knee slightly better than placebo, but the current analysis does not support prolonged use of NSAIDs for this condition. As serious adverse effects are associated with oral NSAIDs, only limited use can be recommended” (BMJ, Dec. 4, 2004).
There is growing recognition that NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, naproxen and diclofenac carry substantial risk, including digestive distress such as heartburn, nausea or even life-threatening bleeding ulcers. Other NSAID complications may include elevated blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, dizziness, fluid retention, ringing in the ears, kidney and liver damage.
A recent report from Denmark suggests that high doses of ibuprofen and diclofenac are associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems (Expert Opinion on Drug Safety, online, June 23, 2010).
With such questionable benefits and serious side effects, it is not surprising that people are looking for alternatives. That’s why home remedies are so popular. They are generally affordable and far less risky. Readers of this column report that fruit juices such as cherry, grape, pineapple or pomegranate can be helpful. Spices like cayenne, turmeric and ginger may also give relief.
For those who like such approaches, we offer our book, Favorite Home Remedies, at None are likely to be studied in double-blind trials, but they’re also unlikely to cause the kinds of complications associated with NSAIDs.

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  1. Rita

    What is the ratio of Certo to grape juice?

  2. Sha

    Have used Glucosamine, plain, for many years. Then they added Vit. D, which was fine.
    Last bottle has “Joint fluid, hyaluronic acid” added and it has caused flatulence, cramping and diarrhea. I have stopped taking it; and, would like suggestions.

  3. Beryl

    About 9 years ago I was in absolute pain on one side of hip & body. I went into a health food store out of desperation. The young man suggested Glucosamine Chondroiton & since I had nothing to lose, I tried it & after several days of two pills a day (one Am & one PM) my pain was almost gone. I was going to an orthopedist who specialized in hip replacement & mentioned that it had helped. Unlike many others (who might have sneered) he said that several of his patients had also felt comfortable!
    This young orthopedic doctor, by the way, had saved a prominent young professional ice skater from disaster & she was able to continue skating.
    I still take it & it has helped me tremendously!

  4. Shirley

    I want to try the Certo/fruit juice combo for my pains but I don’t know the ratio of the two ingredients. Please help.

  5. Julie D

    I have used glucosamine & chondrotin since it first came out. I had my knee replaced finally after 11 surgeries and the Dr. suggested I try stopping them. Within 2 weeks I felt bones I didn’t even know I had. Got back on them and it took 3 more weeks to feel better. I will use them forever.

  6. vce

    I take Glucosamine, Chrondroitn, and MSM it has worked wonders on my lower back. I recently started taking MHB3 Hyaluronan in liquid form. It has really helped my right should which has sever osteoarthritis bone on bone. This is my third week and I have noticed a big difference. The doctor wanted to give me shots in my shoulder. I said no, no, no. I will try other things first and so far it all seems to be working. If you think it is worth a try it sells in the health food stores. I bought the Baxyl brand name it cost 39.95 for 6 lf oz. That is pretty expensive. However when my shoulder gets better I am going to try the capsules.
    I am 79 and I guess we have to take care of all our parts so we can stay glued together. Hee, hee.

  7. Suzanne

    “For one thing, there are surprisingly few long-term trials of NSAIDs. That’s a disappointment for drugs that may be taken for months or years.”
    The same could be said for the biologics used to treat RA/JRA.

  8. LSM

    I had a great deal of pain from a rotary cuff problem that did not respond to steroids [a shot]. I discovered that MSN was helpful. After taking it daily for several months the pain began to ease and now [about a year later] I can sleep on that side without causing it to flare up. You can find MSM at Walmart in the vitamin/supplements section of the Pharmacy. I took 1000mg 2 times a day with food.

  9. CWBL

    Grape juice and Certo (powdered form) has worked wonders for me, and I’ve also used Vitamin D which has helped. Now this is going to sound silly, but I’ve found that at the first sign of pain in my finders, if I tape my fingers together for several hours and sleep with the tape on, by morning most of the pain is gone. My sister has found that playing the piano relieves her pain. Opposite “cures” (immobilization vs. exercise), but both are effective and are free!

  10. Ken C.

    Turmeric capsules 300mg each twice day effectively reduces my neuropathic pains in both forearms. These is also pain reduction in both rotator cuffs which have been a source of pain with loss of motion for years. At 78 any pain relief by a relatively safe economical well tolerated “spice” is a god send.

  11. Linda C.

    I have used Ibuprofen, and Glucosamine, Chondroitin and MSM for osteoarthris in my knees – all to little effect.
    What HAS helped is Traditional 5-Element Chinese Acupuncture, and I recommend it to anyone seeking a non-invasive treatment. It addresses the underlying energy blockages that contribute to the development of chronic disease conditions, rather than simply minimizing the symptoms.

  12. CKM

    I’d like to underscore the comment that no single antidote works for all people. Each person’s body chemistry IS different. Fifteen years ago, I accompanied my then 70-year-old father (who lived with daily, debilitating lower back pain) to hear a lecture by a local rheumatologist. He struck us as unusually open-minded, especially when he said (about glucosamine/chondroitin and some other pain-lessening solutions for arthritis pain), “No single medication/herbal/solution helps everyone. But if one helps even 10% of the people who try it, that’s a good thing.”
    My dad started taking glu/chon that day, and while he lived with pain until he died in 2007, it was less intense when he was on glu/chon. On the two occasions when he was off it (once he forgot to replenish his supply, the other time he was hospitalized and taken off all meds for five days), his arthritic pain and inflammation returned within 24 hours with a vengeance.
    My husband and several friends are also daily users of glucosamine and chondroitin. One of our orthopedic doctors suggested 10 years ago that the combination, in his experience, tended to work better with people experiencing pain in weight-bearing joints. Our experience supports that, but we also have friends for whom it doesn’t work. That doesn’t keep us from using it.
    So, while the double-blind studies may be “in,” I tend to be leery of believing any absolutes or superlatives in studies and reports. Any that give a broad-brush (“It doesn’t work” or “it always works”) generally make me try the opposite, while I continue to read, read, and read to make up my own mind.

  13. Joel H.

    I believe that not every person is going to benefit from all non prescription
    drugs. I am fortunate, I do.

  14. KE

    Anybody who has watched their dog go from being unable to climb a step without assistance to leaping and bounding upstairs and running around the yard after starting Glucasamine supplements will argue for it’s effectiveness. I have to say that Glucosamine Chondroitin works very well for my knee pain as well.

  15. PB

    I beg to differ with the statement that Glucosomine/chondroitin do not work. About 14 years ago my left hip hurt very badly. I had trouble rising from a chair and getting in and out of the car was extremely painful. I had heard a little about G/C but not much. I was passing a drugstore what had a sign advertising this product. I bought some and within a few days of starting it my pain was gone.I have gone off of it but pain came back so I continue to take this product but only 1 tablet once a day. I am an advocate of this product and do not agree with this particular research. I am 77 years old.

  16. Joe M.

    I am 72 and have arthritis in my ankle and my fingers and have been using glucosamine and chondroitin for over 20 years. I do not know whether there is a direct correlation between the glucosamine and chondroitin and my arthritis pain. But, I do know that when, for whatever reason, I do not take the supplement for some extended period, 2-3 weeks or more, I begin to suffer aches and pain in my ankle and fingers.

  17. Tracy L

    I’ve had torn cartilage in my right knee and have had two surgeries to repair. After the first I was advised to take glucosamine and chondroitin. Still had minor pain occasionally and noticed when I forgot to take my glucosamine and chondroitin the pain was worse. After the second surgery (different Dr) I was advised to take glucosamine but not chondroitin because it was worthless. So for about 3 years I took 2000mg of glucosamine daily with occasional pain and a lot of stiffness in both knees when squatting or sitting for long periods.
    About 5 months ago I bought a different brand of glucosamine that came in a 3000mg dose and didn’t realize at the time it was more than I’d been taking. To end my long story I noticed about a month or so ago that I haven’t been having any pain and my knees don’t get stiff much at all now. So contrary to what this article says the glucosamine does work for me. Maybe people arent taking a big enough dose.

  18. MR

    I have used glucosamine for about 20 years. It did nothing for my knees, but definitely had a positive effect on arthritis in my hands. Twice I stopped taking it for a couple weeks to test it. My fingers became so stiff that I could barely type. That was enough of a test for me. I don’t understand why it would work for one part of the body, but not another, but I intend to continue taking it.

  19. Diane B.

    Reading your article on glucosamine and chondroitin and the fact that they do not work, I was disturbed that these products are still being sold! I’ve taken this product for over 7 years when I suffered a torn miniscus and had surgery to repair it. The tear was from an arthritic bone which had “sawed through” the miniscus. My surgeon suggested I begin using it. I still have occasional pain, especially if I move too quickly or if I’ve been sitting too long.
    I’m 74 and have a fear of taking long walks. I used to be a power walker and could walk a mile in 11 minutes. Those days are gone. Is there anything I could take that will strengthen my bones? I do take allendronate once a week (Fosomax). I need to be more active…

  20. dp

    Most medications become ineffective over time. That’s why drug holidays are probably a good thing. They help reduce build up of medications that the liver and kidneys are unable to clear in 24 hours, and help prevent them from becoming infective. Glucosamine works for some people not everyone. We all have our own unique body chemistry. Arthritis (joint inflammation) can be caused by different things in the environment or our own genetic makeup, or a combination. People have to try things and see what works for them.
    If it works and then ceases to be effective, move on to something else and take a close look at diet, work environment, other things in your environment. Turmeric has been working for me for quite awhile. If I run out of it for a week, the pain and swelling in finger joints returns. I can’t take glucosamine mixed with SAme or chondroitin; skullcap etc. I buy plain glucosamine from the health food store.
    Does it work? I don’t know for sure, but figure it is a building block for joint repair so why not supply it to the body. One plain Aspirin 325 mg. helps also. I take it for heart but it does help with keeping inflammation down. Maybe we should all look at eating diets that don’t contribute to inflammation.

  21. T Allyn

    I read reports that chrondroitin did not work and stopped taking my chrondroitin/glucosamine. After 2 months my left knee hurt so bad that I began walking with a limp. I started taking them again and the pain has subsided. If the combination of the two doesn’t work, then is my condition psychosomatic?

  22. RN

    How risky is daily use of mobic which was prescribed for my knee osteoarthritis?

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