If you have osteoarthritis pain you are likely taking ibuprofen, aspirin, or some othe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to help with pain and stiffness. There are also many arthritis supplements sold at your local grocery store or drugstore.
Nutrition Action recently looked at several studies of the supplements and found they probably are not more helpful at relieving pain or building cartilage. They found that:

*  In 25 randomized controlled trials over the last 33 years most arthritis supplements containing glucosamine have not found a consensus among researchers as to whether they are more effective than placebo. “Glucosamine doesn’t work, period,” says David Felson of the Boston University School of Medicine. However, Roland Moskowitz of the University Hospitals Case Medical Center says, “There are reasons to think that it may help, and some studies suggest it does.” So why the conflict? There are two forms of glucosamine.  Glucosamine hydrochloride (the kind in most supplements) and glucosamine sulfate. While glucosamine sulfate has been found to relieve pain in some studies, other studies suggest it’s no better than placebo. Despite the lack of evidence though, Dr. Felson doesn’t talk his patients out of trying it. “If they think something is working and it’s not dangerous, I don’t discourage it’s use.”

*  Chondroitin, which our bodies make provides some of cartilage’s resistance to pressure. When used alone, the studies found that chondroitin supplements did not relieve arthritis pain any better than a placebo.

*  In one trial, people taking glucosamine hydrochloride plus chondroitin every day for 6 months were not relieved of pain, or saw improved joint function any more than a placebo.

*  No good studies have looked at whether fish oil helps osteoarthritis pain. Krill oil, which is manufactured from zooplankton that are harvested in the Antarctic Ocean also contains the omega-3 fats DHA and EPA. In one trial, people with either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis who took 300 mg a day of krill oil reported less pain after 14 days than those who took a placebo. However, researchers point out that rheumatoid arthritis may be helped by omega-3s, but it’s less clear that they can help with osteoarthritis.

*  In several trials, people who took 1,200 mg of SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine) every day for one to 4 months reported as much pain relief as those people who took non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Celebrex or ibuprofen. “There does seem to be a small pain relieving effect, similar to NSAIDs,” says David Hunter, professor of rheumatology at the University of Sydney Medical School in Australia. “But in general, the trials are small, and the optimum dose and treatment period remains unclear.”


Nutrition Action Health Letter      October 2013

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