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Glucosamine, Chondroitin supplements for Joint Pain in Downtown Winnipeg

If you work in Downtown Winnipeg, you experience the ‘hardness’ of your daily commute. It is a ‘concrete jungle’, and the impact on your feet, knees, hips and back can be felt on a daily basis.

We all know someone who takes ‘vitamins’, or some kind of ‘supplement’ with the latest health benefit.

I get asked almost everyday about ‘glucosamine supplements’ for arthritis, joint pain, etc. Those ‘horse pills almost choked me’ exclaimed one patient, ‘how much do I need to take to even notice a difference in my knee pain?’, ‘where can I get those pills that supposedly help my joints?…are common questions in Downtown Winnipeg.

In a 2010 British Medical Journal, one of the most reputable of all scientific journals; an article published this conclusion:

“Compared with placebo, glucosamine, chondroitin, and their combination do not reduce joint pain or have an impact on narrowing of joint space. Health authorities and health insurers should not cover the costs of these preparations, and new prescriptions to patients who have not received treatment should be discouraged.”

So is it fair to conclude that it’s not worth taking glucosamine, and/or chondroitin supplements?

Maybe.

May I present the evidence to people to let them make an informed decision. I have seen patients describe dramatic reductions in pain after taking G&C. If the supplement helps your symptoms it may be worth continuing it, especially if stopping taking it causes an increase in pain. I’ve also seen many report no change and complain about the ongoing cost. 1 or 2 have reported occasional side effects, although these supplements are generally considered fairly safe to take.

Other studies have shown more promising results, with Bruyere et al. (2008) concluding G&C may reduce the need for total joint replacement. It’s worth noting however, that in terms of quality of evidence, a systematic review of multiple research papers is usually considered better evidence than an isolated study. A recent analysis by Lee et al 2010 did show that G&C may slow progression of osteoarthritis (as measured by X-ray change) although it required taking it daily over 2-3 years.

But Sawitzke et al. 2010 found “no clinically important difference in pain or function” when compared to placebo. The Cochrane Review (2009) – Glucosamine Therapy for Treating Osteoarthritis had somewhat mixed results but concluded it may reduce pain and improve function.

Prices of G&C vary a great deal. Most clients speak of Costco having ‘bulk’ prices, while Walmart still has the edge on discount pricing for ‘reasonable amounts’. But physicians I have questioned here in Winnipeg, some at our best sportsmedicine centres, still recommend greater than 1600 mgs per day, over greater than an initial 6 week period to judge the supps usage.

Personally, I have recommended our local Winnipeg stores, like Guerrilla Jacks and Sunrise Health; as there is still nothing like more opinions and education about your health.

So the question you need to ask yourself is, am I willing to spend that much on a treatment that might help or may make no difference to my pain or the progression of arthritis?

Words of caution: If you are planning to take supplements to treat arthritis or other conditions discuss this with your GP or Pharmacist.

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