Joint Supplements for Arthritis Treatment

Woman popping a supplement out of a blister pack into her hand

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For several decades there has been a debate in the treatment of osteoarthritis about the use of the joint supplements glucosamine and chondroitin. Osteoarthritis is a condition that causes problems with wearing out of the normally smooth cartilage surfaces of the joints. Often called wear-and-tear arthritis, osteoarthritis causes joint pain, swelling, and deformity. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Glucosamine and chondroitin are two molecules that make up the type of cartilage found in joints. Inside your joints, cartilage undergoes a constant process of breakdown and repair. However, to be properly repaired, the building blocks of cartilage must be present and available. The theory behind using the glucosamine and chondroitin joint supplements is that more of the cartilage building blocks will be available for cartilage repair.

  • Glucosamine is a part of a molecule called a glycosaminoglycan-this molecule is used in the formation and repair of cartilage.
  • Chondroitin is the most abundant glycosaminoglycan in cartilage and is responsible for the resiliency of cartilage.

Treatment with these joint supplements is based on the theory that oral consumption of glucosamine and chondroitin may increase the rate of formation of new cartilage by providing more of the necessary building blocks.

Do Patients Grow New Cartilage?

While it would be ideal to replace worn-out cartilage with new cartilage, oral consumption of glucosamine and chondroitin has not been shown to alter the availability of these cartilage building blocks inside an arthritic joint. It has not been shown that the consumption of joint supplements increases the quantity of these cartilage building blocks within any joint.

Is It Effective?

There have been numerous studies to examine the treatment effects of glucosamine and chondroitin. Many of these studies lasted only one to two months and provided some indication the joint supplements led patients to experience more pain reduction when taking glucosamine and chondroitin than patients receiving a placebo. The improvement experienced by these patients was similar to improvements experienced by patients taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) that have been a mainstay of non-operative arthritis treatment. The difference is that NSAIDs carry an increased risk of side effects including gastrointestinal complaints and bleeding.

Recommended Dosage

The usual recommended dose is 1,500 mg each day. Patients can either take this at one time or split it up two or three times a day. Patients may also find a benefit of doubling this dose for the first week of treatment, then continue at 1,500 mg each day.

Is It Worthwhile?

The results of studies investigating glucosamine and chondroitin have been mixed, but have not passed the test of a well-designed study to be accepted into the primary treatment plan for osteoarthritis. In fact, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends against glucosamine and chondroitin for treatment of knee osteoarthritis. Furthermore, because these are unregulated supplements, a particular brand of glucosamine or chondroitin may or may not be of satisfactory quality.

Ultimately, what patients should understand, is that glucosamine and chondroitin have shown some evidence that these supplements can provide help with treating pain associated with osteoarthritis. However, these studies have ranged from poor to satisfactory in quality, and in order to be accepted as an effective treatment for osteoarthritis, more research must be completed.

What is known, is that there are effective treatments for osteoarthritis that every patient should be using before considering these supplements. Specifically, recommendations for weight control, exercise, proper use of medications, and joint protection are known to minimize the progression and improve symptoms of osteoarthritis. These steps must be taken by all arthritis patients for optimal treatment to take place.

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Article Sources

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