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The Use of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate for Knee Arthritis

Posted Feb 03 2009 12:44am

  A recent review from the January 2009 issue of the Journal of Arthroscopy reviewed the use of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for knee osteoarthritis.  Considering the vast amount of people suffering from knee arthritis and the increasing cost of medical care for these patients, the use of any type of supplement to reduce symptoms is welcome. 

Research into the efficacy of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate is certainly not new with studies dating back to 1969.  However, the literature has been filled with many poorly controlled studies, some of which were funded by glucosamine manufacturers!This particular paper reviewed the results of 23 studies that involved double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized control trials as well as several meta-analyses.

The effectiveness of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate

The overall results of the review show that there are inconsistent results, but that the results do favor improvement of pain and joint function in patients with arthritis.  The authors also note that one of the most consistent trends between studies involved the length of use of the supplement.  The best results from glucosamine appear to occur after several months of use.  Studies are referenced that show positive results in 3-6 months and even up to 9 months.

In general, if you looked hard enough, you could probably find more articles that say that the use of glucosamine is effective than you could find saying it is not effective.  I realize and agree that there is not overwhelming evidence in support of glucosamine or outlined the exact mechanism of symptom improvement.  However, when we start to run out of options for our patients, I would say there is enough evidence to support it’s use, as long as the supplement is safe.

The Safety of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate

A potentially more important finding of the current review was that the use of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate appears to be safe, at least as safe as placebo supplementation.  To me, this is the most important finding for me clinically.  If we are going to recommend the use of a supplement with inconsistent findings, as long as the supplement is safe I have no problem recommending a patient try glucosamine.

Recommended Use of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate

I have spent a lot of time over the last several years trying to find a consensus statement on the use of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.  Unfortunately, this does not appear to exist.  I have taken information from many sources, including the excellent recommendations of noted orthopedist Dr. Frank Noyes of Cincinnati Sports Medicine and information from the Osteoarthritis Research Society International to provide the following information.  I recommend that you read Dr. Noyes’ recommendations, it is a great resource.  Also, realize that you should consult with your own personal physician before taking any supplements and that glucosamine may not be indicated for you personally.  The below information are just basic guidelines for healthcare providers when considering the use of glucosamine:

  • Glucosamine should be taken with chondroitin sulfate to maximize it’s effectiveness
  • Supplements that include magnesium and vitamin C may help the absorption rate of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.
  • To date, the specific brand that has received the highest recommendations appears to be Cosamin DS.
  • Dosage should vary based on body weight:
    • If less than 120 lbs: G 1000mg + CS 800mg
    • Between 120-200 lbs: G 1500mg + CS 1200mg
    • If greater than 200 lbs: G 2000mg + CS 1600mg
  • Supplements should be taken for at least 3 months for noticeable results.  If no response within 6 months, may discontinue.

I have found decent results from the use of glucosamine in my patients, have you?

C VANGSNESSJR, W SPIKER, J ERICKSON (2009). A Review of Evidence-Based Medicine for Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate Use in Knee Osteoarthritis Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery, 25 (1), 86-94 DOI:10.1016/j.arthro.2008.07.020

Image byscottfeldstein

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