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If you suffer from joint pain—especially in the knees, hips, and elbows—you’re in very good company. In fact, an estimated 27 million Americans with osteoarthritis “share your pain”. With a condition that affects so many people, it’s not surprising that researchers and clinicians are interested in finding ways to help “regrow” lost cartilage in damaged joints. Nutritional supplements have become a focus of their efforts.

Glucosamine and chondroitin are two promising candidates now on the market. They are both naturally-occurring substances found in the connective tissues that surround joints. The theory is that taking supplements containing these ingredients might help to slow—or even reverse—the loss of cartilage. Chondroitin also has an anti-inflammatory effect that some researchers believe could possibly help to reduce swelling. The goal, of course, is to reduce pain and restore function in the affected joints.

Before you rush off to try these supplements, though, you should consider the most recent research that’s has been done on them. These studies do offer some hope for osteoarthritis sufferers, but they also suggest some important caveats that you need to be aware of. For example, after reading these first paragraphs, you might be tempted to buy bottles of both glucosamine and chondroitin, or to buy them in a combined form called glucosamine chondroitin. Do yourself a favor and read the rest of this article before you do.

If G provides relief and C provides relief, then G+C must provide even more relief, right?

Wrong. Clinical trials have shown that taking glucosamine and chondroitin together doesn’t necessarily provide more relief. In fact, the opposite may even be true. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently completed a $12.5 million study involving 1,583 patients suffering from various levels of osteoarthritis-related joint pain. Some were given only glucosamine (in the form of glucosamine sulfate), others were given only chondroitin (in the form of chondroitin sulfate), and a third group was giving a combination of the two (marketed as glucosamine chondroitin). A fourth group was given an anti-inflammatory drug (celecoxib), and a fifth control group was given a placebo.

The results were fascinating. As expected, a statistically significant number of the celecoxib patients reported some relief from their pain. Overall, patients in all three of the supplement groups having mild pain experienced little relief compared to the placebo group. But among the supplement groups, those patients plagued with moderate-to-severe pain experienced significant pain relief compared to the placebo group, as long as they were taking either glucosamine alone, or chondroitin alone. Those taking the two drugs in combination experienced no significant pain relief. Osteoarthritis researchers have theorized that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin may produce a molecule that is too large to be easily digested and absorbed, and thus the combination of the two supplements together actually reduces the effectiveness that either of them might have on their own.

So should I try these supplements or not?

As with any other nutritional supplement you might be considering, be sure to talk with a qualified healthcare provider before taking either glucosamine or chondroitin. This is particularly true if you are using other medications or supplements with which they might interact. That said, you should be aware that the larger finding of the NIH study was that neither of these supplements “worked” for everyone. But they did have a statistically significant benefit for a certain percentage of patients experiencing moderate-to-severe pain. Also bear in mind that the individual supplements – glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate—seemed to be more effective for more people in the study than the combination of the two.

Though good nutrition can certainly play a role in joint health, weight loss and exercise are still among the most effective ways to manage osteoarthritis. Chiropractors are experts in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal conditions and can design a holistic treatment plan to meet your specific needs. So if you or someone you care about is suffering from osteoarthritis symptoms, contact our office today. We can help!

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