Alternative Treatments: Glucosamine

The problem of osteoarthritis affects a majority of the American population. Osteoarthritis occurs when articular cartilage is damaged or eroded. Once established there are few methods to reverse the articular cartilage damage and only limited ways to delay this damage.

Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are both basic constituents of articular cartilage. Many researchers and recently major publications recommended the use of glucosamine orally in the treatment of the pain associated with osteoarthritis. Glucosamine does appear to have a mild anti-inflammatory effect which causes a reduction in pain in 80 percent of individuals who take it. Several studies have found glucosamine to be better than ibuprofen (e.g., Advil) and placebo in the reduction of pain. All studies on glucosamine have demonstrated fewer side affects than anti-inflammatories. At this point, however, there is no medical evidence that glucosamine taken orally can reduce or repair articular surface damage. In fact, in the majority of animal models studied, glucosamine is not as effective in reducing inflammation as many of the newer non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and specifically indomethacin (Indocin).

Glucosamine is sold over the counter in the United States as a dietary supplement. It is often combined with chondroitin sulfate. Generic forms of this supplement can be purchased for approximately $30 for a month-long supply when taken three times a day. Some suppliers recommend the dosage be increased when the pain is severe. The addition of chondroitin sulfate to the glucosamine can significantly increase its cost.

In summary, glucosamine, with or without chondroitin sulfate, does appear to have some affect on the inflammatory response caused by arthritic degeneration in joints and specifically in knees. From a medical view point, glucosamine has not been shown to slow or repair articular cartilage degenerative changes. For this reason, no specific recommendation for the use of glucosamine, with or without chondroitin sulfate, can be made. It should be noted, however, that there are no known side effects to taking this dietary supplement and therefore there appears to be no contraindication to trying it on an individual basis.