Two hundred and twelve patients with osteoarthritis of the knee were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or 1,500 mg of glucosamine once per day for three years. At the end of the trial, for those who were followed throughout the trial, symptom scores increased by 10% in the placebo group but decreased 24% in those given glucosamine. X-rays of the knees of patients assigned to take placebo continued to show a significant increase in abnormalities, while no deterioration appeared in the average X-ray of the knees of people given glucosamine. All differences in outcome between people given glucosamine and people given a placebo were statistically significant.
For conventional medicine, previous skepticism may now be replaced by a new attitude regarding not only glucosamine but also other dietary supplements as well. A landmark editorial accompanying the new report concludes that it is time for medical doctors to accommodate the possibility that many nutritional products may have valuable therapeutic effects.
The Take-Home Message
For arthritis sufferers, there are several take-home messages to be found in the new report. First, glucosamine is safe. Since glucosamine does not cure people with osteoarthritis and they may need to take the supplement for the rest of their lives, the issue of long-term safety is important. The Lancet report is the first to show that glucosamine has essentially no side effects, even after three years of supplementation. Overall, problems were no more common in people given GLUCOSAMINE than in those given a placebo.
The fact that X-rays continued to show deterioration with placebo but not with glucosamine suggests that glucosamine directly affects the structure of joints. The difference in X-ray finding between the glucosamine group and the placebo group strongly suggests that glucosamine is not simply reducing pain, but is somehow preventing further damage.
Glucosamine May be Your Stomach´s Best Friend
Conventional medicine has no osteoarthritis therapy that maintains joint structure. In fact, the most common treatment - aspirin and related drugs - used to reduce pain, have been reported to increase the rate of joint deterioration in arthritis suffers. But the most common serious side effect from chronic aspirin use is irritation to the stomach, which often turns into gastritis or even ulcers. By significantly reducing pain levels, long-term use of glucosamine is likely to translate into less aspirin use, and with that, less gastritis and fewer ulcers.
Steve Austin, ND, is the Chief Science Officer for Healthnotes, Inc. He is a former Professor of Nutrition at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Austin has also headed the nutrition department at Bastyr University.