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. However, a 2018 review of the GAIT trial studies found that the evidence was mixed at best, and positive outcomes could have been due to placebo effect.

A further review of randomized controlled studies had a similar result. In another 2018 review of 30 studies, not only was there no pain relief found with glucosamine and chondroitin, but there were more adverse events than with placebo.

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, as do the American College of Rheumatology and the Arthritis Foundation in their clinical guidelines.

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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  2. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Glucosamine and chondroitin for osteoarthritis. Updated September 24, 2017.

  3. DiNubile N. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate: What has been learned since the Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial. Orthopedics. 2018;41(4):200-7. doi:10.3928/01477447-20180511-06

  4. Zhu X, Sang L, Wu D, Rong J, Jiang L. Effectiveness and safety of glucosamine and chondroitin for the treatment of osteoarthritis: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trialsJ Orthop Surg Res. 2018;13(1):170. doi:10.1186/s13018-018-0871-5

  5. Kolasinski SL, Neogi T, Hochberg MC, et al. 2019 American College of Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation guideline for the management of osteoarthritis of the hand, hip, and knee. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2020;72(2):220-233. doi:10.1002/acr.24131

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