New Study Questions Benefits of Glucosamine Sulfate
Glucosamine sulfate did not relieve pain in adults with osteoarthritis of the knee, although it did increase range of motion in the knees, according to a new study in Rheumatology (2002;41:279–84). This report contradicts the results of numerous other studies that have shown glucosamine sulfate reduces pain associated with osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritis is a condition of the joints in which the cartilage between bones begins to deteriorate. Although osteoarthritis sometimes results from overuse or repetitive injury, in most cases the cause is unknown. As the cartilage begins to erode, inflammation occurs, leading to pain in the joint and limitation of movement.
Conventional treatment is designed to reduce inflammation and pain by taking oral anti-inflammatory or analgesic medications, such as Tylenol®, ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®, Nuprin®), indomethacin (Indocin®), or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. However, taking these medications on a long-term basis may result in a peptic ulcer or liver problems. Some physicians recommend surgery to remove debris in the joint, but arthroscopic surgery has recently been found to be ineffective as a treatment for osteoarthritis.
In the new study, 80 men and women with osteoarthritis of the knee were assigned to receive 1,500 mg per day of glucosamine sulfate or placebo for six months. Measurements of pain (at rest and upon movement), mobility, and use of medications were assessed periodically throughout the study.
Contrary to the results of previous studies, no significant differences in pain were seen between those taking glucosamine sulfate and those taking placebo. There was, however, a small but statistically significant increase in knee joint mobility among those taking glucosamine sulfate.
It is not clear why there is a discrepancy between this study and earlier studies. One likely explanation is that more participants in the new study had severe osteoarthritis, compared with those in earlier studies. As with most treatments for osteoarthritis, glucosamine is less likely to effective against severe cases than against milder cases.
Whatever the reason for the difference in results, the majority of evidence suggests glucosamine sulfate is helpful for osteoarthritis of the knee and has no known adverse side effects.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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