A study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases (online, July 28, 2017) concluded that glucosamine lacks evidence of effectiveness. Although the researchers don’t come right out and say it, the implications of their report are that any improvements people report with this dietary supplement are probably imaginary. Before you give up on glucosamine, though, read on.
What They Did:
The new analysis of glucosamine was based on a review of six studies. It concluded that:
“there is no evidence to support the use of glucosamine for treatment of hip or knee OA in general and an absence of evidence to support the use of glucosamine for clinically relevant subgroups of OA according to baseline pain severity, BMI, sex, structural abnormalities and presence of inflammation.”
Five of the studies were randomized controlled trials comparing glucosamine to placebo. The scientists analyzed the results carefully to determine whether there might be some subgroups that respond well to this popular supplement. They could not find any groups that had reductions in pain or improved function compared to placebo.
What They Could Not Do:
The investigators were frustrated by the fact that data from approximately 15 other studies would have been helpful but were not made available. Based on the data they reviewed, however, they concluded that:
“Currently, there is no good evidence to support the use of glucosamine for hip or knee OA” [osteoarthritis].
Contrary Data on Glucosamine:
A year ago a study of crystalline glucosamine sulfate showed that this form was as effective as NSAIDs in alleviating joint pain (Current Medical Research and Opinion, June, 2016).
Another study from this spring reported that the same patented glucosamine formulation worked better than acetaminophen (International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases, online March 23, 2017). However, the company that makes this product chose not to share its data with the reviewers.
Stories from Readers:
We recognize that anecdotes are not science. Accounts from readers can never compare to randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials. That said, we suspect that some people benefit from glucosamine and others do not. The special crystalline formulation might be effective, but the raw data are not readily available. Here are some stories for your consideration:
Dorothy in Virginia says thumbs up:
“My 80-year-old husband and I have taken glucosamine with chondroitin for as long as it has been available. Every time we stop taking it, we get knee problems.
“Years ago, we had a small dog who developed leg problems and could no longer jump up into her favorite chair. After taking glucosamine with chondroitin, she was pain free and could jump into her chair again.”
Jim in Winchester, VA offers this perspective:
“Emphasis needs to be given to the form of glucosamine used. Hearing many reports from People’s Pharmacy [PP] over the years, it seems that positive results for glucosamine use glucosamine SULFATE while less positive results come from the use of glucosamine hydrochloride.
“The GAIT trial used glucosamine hydrochloride, and failed to get positive results. PP cites above a 2016 study with a very positive result where ‘a crystalline glucosamine SULFATE formulation is equivalent to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen.’ Medline Plus specifies that glucosamine SULFATE is ‘Likely effective for’ osteoarthritis, but glucosamine hydrochloride has ‘Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for’ osteoarthritis.”
Garry in Kentucky shares this intriguing review:
“Back in the 1980s, there was a survey with over 2 thousand veterinarians responding. 85% of respondents reported good to excellent results with Glucosamine. Glucosamine was first used by horse racing veterinarians. With the big money involved in treating thoroughbreds, I’m sure the vets didn’t fool around with things that did not produce results.
“Concerning the study showing glucosamine to be ineffective on knees, a subsequent study demonstrated effectiveness providing 2000 mg. was taken in a single dose. The usual 1500 mg. in divided doses was not effective for the knees. Using the single dose 2000 mg my knees healed up nicely over a few weeks.
“When I was in my fifties I was diagnosed with arthritis. Taking the usual 1500 mg. daily gradually eliminated all symptoms. I do not take or recommend chondroitin. Little is absorbed and what is absorbed may end up residing in the prostate. It is not known to cause any issues with the prostate but on the other hand who wants an aberrant substance where it does not belong.”
What has been your experience with glucosamine or glucosamine and chondroitin? Share in the comment section.
If you would like to read more about other approaches to controlling arthritis pain, we offer our Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis.