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Placebo Beats Supplements for Arthritis Pain

Posted 27 January 2017

New York Times

Nicholas Bakalar Jan. 26, 2017

Many people take glucosamine and chondroitin supplements for arthritis pain, but a controlled trial has found no evidence that the combination works. In fact, in this study, the placebo worked better.

Spanish researchers randomized 164 men and women with knee osteoarthritis to take a single daily dose of 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine and 1,200 of chondroitin, or an identical looking placebo. The study is in Arthritis & Rheumatology.

The researchers used a scale that shows 10 faces with increasingly pained expressions and asks patients to say which picture matches their degree of pain. People who took the medicines had a 19 percent reduction in pain scores after six months on the regimen. But those who took the placebo had a 33 percent reduction.

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Glucosamine and/or chondroitin: No help

Another assessment of studies, i.e., a meta-analysis, finds no benefit of glucosamine and/or chondroitin, on joint pain or narrowing of joint space: "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." 

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Glucosamine and chondroitin

"In 2006, the New England Journal of Medicine published a $12.5 million study saying that, for most people, glucosamine and chondroitin do not soothe knee pain much better than a placebo."

"Try telling that to patients who swear that the supplements have helped their aching knees or backs — a position that the study's lead researcher, Daniel Clegg of the University of Utah School of Medicine, finds himself in often."

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