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Researchers Claim Arthritis Supplements Have No Effect

September 18, 2010

According to a study by Swiss scientists, two supplements taken by millions of people around the globe for joint pain do not work and health authorities or insurers should not pay for the drugs.

The supplements, glucosamine and chondroitin, are either taken on their own or in combination to help reduce the pain that is caused by osteoarthritis in the hips and knees.

However, Swiss researchers found that there was “no clinically relevant effect” of chondroitin or glucosamine on joint pain.

The Swiss study involved 3,803 patients with knee or hip osteoarthritis.

“Health authorities and health insurers should not cover the costs for these preparations, and new prescriptions to patients who have not received treatment should be discouraged,” Peter Juni of the University of Bern, whose study was published in the British Medical Journal on Friday, told Reuters.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is one of the leading causes of chronic disability in the U.S.  The disease affects about eight million people in Britain and about 27 million in the U.S.

It is a chronic condition that is treated with painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen.  Some of these drugs can cause stomach and heart problems, particularly if they are used for long periods.

According to the researchers, doctors and specialists have increasingly prescribed glucosamine and chondroitin to their patients in the past decade. 

Their research said that in 2008, global sales of glucosamine supplements reached almost $2 billion.

The team reviewed 10 previously published trials and assessed the data on changes in levels of pain after patients took glucosamine, chondroitin, or a combination.

“Compared with placebo, glucosamine, chondroitin, and their combination do not reduce joint pain or have an impact on narrowing of joint space,” they wrote.

The team said that despite their findings, some patients remained convinced that the supplements work.

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