Another Supplement Study–More Confusion

The studies on nutritional supplements are coming fast and furious, it seems. (Just a coincidence?) Now it’s the turn of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to treat osteoarthritis, in the current New England Journal of Medicine. And once again, the results appear muddled. Overall, the glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate didn’t do significantly better than a placebo, while Celebrex, the Big Pharma drug, did do significantly better…except (there’s always the exception, it seems) patients with moderate to severe cases seemed to experience a fair amount of pain relief from the supplements.

If you thought you might find clarity in the media, forget it. The New York Times headlines its summary, "Supplements Fail to Stop Arthritis Pain, Study Says". The Wall Street Journal’s headline: "Supplements May Help Relieve Moderate to Severe Knee Pain". (To access article, go to and search under "supplements".) The Times seems to have a real problem with subsets in a survey that contradict results from entire sample.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are so widely used that I suspect most of us know someone who is getting relief from the supplements. My wife, Jean, has been taking them for a couple of years, and has gained relief from mild arthritis pain in her knees. In fact, when she’s run out a couple times, the pain has returned within a week of discontinuing the supplements. An M.D. I know has recommended the supplements to many of his patients, who  similarly experience relief.

Bottom line: try the supplements before resorting to Celebrex, and risking all the side effects any Big Pharma drug entails. You may be pleasantly surprised, and one of the "exceptions."

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