Pain Management for South Florida Elders – Do Joint Pain Supplements Really Work?

Nutrition Lab: Joint pain supplements examined

Glucosamine and chondroitin are popular treatments for such ailments as osteoarthritis, but study results are inconsistent on their benefits.

February 22, 2010 Elena Conis

With more than 46 million Americans diagnosed with arthritis, the market for joint pain supplements is enormous — and only set to grow as baby boomers age. “I call it the quiet epidemic,” says Dr. Thomas Vangsness, professor of orthopedic surgery and chief of sports medicine at the USC Keck School of Medicine.

But while the variety of joint pain supplements just keeps growing, just a few have been well studied, and even fewer have been shown to work.

Yucca root, mangosteen juice and fish oil supplements are often touted as remedies for joint pain, but although some lab studies indicate they might help fight inflammation, there’s no solid evidence that any of them relieve the symptoms of arthritis in people.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) are marketed for joint pain caused by osteoarthritis, arthritis caused by degeneration of cartilage. Some studies suggest they may be comparable to traditional anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving drugs at reducing pain, but the total number of studies on both is small.

Avocado-soybean unsaponifiables, a mix of avocado and soybean oil extract known as ASU, is less popular here than in Europe, where several trials suggest it works better than a placebo at reducing joint pain. But the best of these studies have been funded by the supplement’s manufacturers, leading some experts to question the findings.

Here in the U.S., two supplements lead the pack in terms of popularity: glucosamine and chondroitin, both natural components of joint tissue. The compounds have been used in Europe and Asia for decades and became popular in the U.S. about 10 years ago. They’re among the bestselling of all supplements on the market and are also the best-studied. (The compounds come in various forms, with studies suggesting that some work better than others — more on that later.)

The first study hinting that glucosamine and chondroitin in any form might help relieve the pain of inflamed joints was published in 1969. But that and many other early studies were small, or followed people for only a short time or used supplements of inconsistent type and quality.

More recently, large-scale, well-designed studies have examined the effects of the two supplements together and independently, usually in people with knee osteoarthritis, one of the most common forms of arthritis.

Some results have been promising, but on the whole they’ve been mixed.

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