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From the Los Angeles Times

September 30, 2008

So much for those knee supplements -- probably


Don't go stocking up on glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate just yet. The supplements, often taken by people suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee, don't appear to slow cartilage loss.

Of course, if you think they help -- and a lot of people do -- don't go tossing them out just yet either. In a new study, people taking the supplements had about the same amount of cartilage loss as those taking a placebo, but those in the placebo group had a slower rate of loss than expected overall. All of which makes irrefutable statements problematic.

Researchers at the University of Utah and elsewhere looked at a subset of patients involved in a larger study known as GAIT (Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Invervention Trial). That larger study focused on the supplements' effects on pain relief, finding that they were no more effective than a placebo -- except (naturally) among a subset of patients that did experience pain relief.

This smaller study analyzed only structural damage within the knee, comparing results in people taking glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, a combination of the two, celecoxib (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) or a placebo.

The effect of these various substances on the distance between the ends of the knee's joint bones? Pretty much the same.

"While we found a trend toward improvement among those with moderate osteoarthritis of the knee in those taking glucosamine, we were not able to draw any definitive conclusions," said lead investigator Dr. Allen D. Sawitzke in a news release.

The study, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, is published in the October issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism.

It comes on the heels of a study finding that arthroscopic surgery wasn't too great for knee osteoarthritis either.

Not to worry, there are a variety of knee-pain therapy options, writes Health writer Jeannine Stein: Arthroscopic surgery not the only answer for knees. Keep trying until you find one that works, she says.

Added Dr. Josephine P. Briggs, director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, of the new study: "The results of the study provide important insights for future research."

Ah, yes, future research. Stay tuned.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Long-distance running can take a toll on the knees; so too can repetitive stress, injuries and carrying around excess weight. Here, runners take part Sunday in the Berlin Marathon.

Credit: Michael Sohn / Associated Press


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