MONDAY, April 16 (HealthDay News) -- The popular dietary supplement chondroitin does not relieve hip or knee pain from osteoarthritis any more effectively than a placebo, researchers report.
Chondroitin, a cartilage extract, is sold across America in health food stores, pharmacies and online. It is often combined with glucosamine, an amino sugar. Experts estimate that U.S. sales of chondroitin-glucosamine supplements now top $1 billion per year.
But consumers' trust in the product may be misplaced, according to the new report, which is published in the April 17 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
"Chondroitin is not efficacious for pain in osteoarthritis," said Dr. David T. Felson, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University and author of an accompanying journal editorial.
While the cartilage extract may not be useful, it also "isn't dangerous," he stressed.
Based on these and other findings, Felson said that, "I don't recommend that patients start taking glucosamine and chondroitin, because glucosamine also doesn't work."
For patients who are already taking glucosamine and chondroitin, Feltson believes it's OK to continue, if they think they are getting some benefit. "Who knows, it may be helping them. I am happy to support their using it, because there may be some groups where it is helpful," he said. "But a lot of it is a placebo effect," he added.
More than 21 million people in the United States have osteoarthritis today, experts say, and those numbers are expected to grow quickly as baby boomers age and Americans in general continue to gain weight.
In the new analysis, Dr. Peter Juni from the University of Berne, Switzerland, and colleagues reviewed data from 20 trials that included more than 3,600 patients with osteoarthritis. The trials compared chondroitin to placebo or no treatment.
The researchers found that in advanced osteoarthritis, chondroitin is no more beneficial than a placebo. In addition, they found no evidence demonstrating any pain-relieving effect of chondroitin for early osteoarthritis.
Although chondroitin is safe, its use should be "discouraged," the Swiss team concluded.
There's more on osteoarthritis at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
By Steven Reinberg
SOURCES: David T. Felson, M.D., M.P.H., professor, medicine and epidemiology, Boston University; April 17, 2007, Annals of Internal Medicine
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