Is Glucosamine Really Good for Arthritis?

Now that we know running is probably good for the knees, the question arises: how is it possible that Clark Kent is totally unrecognizable as Superman merely by donning a pair of nerdy glasses and a suit?  And where would he change now that phone booths are obsolete?  Ok so the real question is: what else is good for the knees?  For many people the answer seems to be supplements, namely glucosamine and chondroitin.  But are these a miracle cure, or do they belong in back in the closet next to the Epsom salt my mom made me use?

Fortunately, this question has been asked before, and was answered in the form of the GAIT study, a landmark study of the effects of glucosamine and chondroitin supplements on knee arthritis which can be read here.  By way of introduction- as we discussed before- osteoarthritis is a breakdown in the cartilage of any joint, and the condition is especially prevalent in the knee, leading to significant pain and disability.  While conservative treatments are available, no treatment has been shown to actually replace the lost or damaged cartilage.  Glucosamine and chondroitin are components of cartilage, and it is thought that after ingesting supplements containing those ingredients they will then be incorporated into damaged cartilage, thus reversing the damage.  Although it is unknown where those supplements go after being swallowed- are they actually incorporated into the joints, or perhaps continue down the pipeline all the way into the East River.

And it’s more than a few people who believe in this treatment- $753 million dollars’ worth of glucosamine and chondroitin supplements were sold in the US in 2012.  However, my dear NYC podiatry patients, don’t get your hopes up too high.  In the GAIT study, a group of over 1,500 subjects took either glucosamine, glucosamine + chondroitin, a placebo or an anti-inflammatory medicine.  The anti-inflammatory group experienced good statistically significant pain relief; the supplement and placebo groups- not so much.  And a follow up study examining the effects of glucosamine and chondroitin on knee cartilage also failed to demonstrate a significant benefit.

These supplements are not harmful, however they have yet to be demonstrated to be beneficial.  There are also inconsistencies in the amount of actual supplement within each preparation, since the industry is less tightly regulated than the pharmaceutical industry- and that says a lot.  So, if you are trying to prevent knee or foot or ankle arthritis, keep active, wear proper shoes, and for cartilage sakes, man, get orthotics! Should you take glucosamine supplements?  Well it couldn’t hurt, but I cannot enthusiastically endorse the idea.

See you in the office.

Ernest Isaacson

Author
Ernest Isaacson Dr. Ernest Isaacson is a graduate of the Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. After completing two years of comprehensive training in various medical specialties including internal medicine, general surgery, orthopedic surgery, vascular surgery, plastic surgery and podiatric medicine, Dr. Isaacson completed a comprehensive one-year podiatric surgical residency. Dr. Isaacson is active in research and publication in basic and clinical science. Dr. Isaacson is also a dedicated family man who enjoys running, reading and spending time with his family.

You Might Also Enjoy...

When Should I Get Bunion Surgery?

Here’s a question I get pretty often: why feet?  And I answer, because I love feet. And usually I’ll add a comment about how it’s a good thing I’m not a gastroenterologist or a urologist or something along those lines.

Heal the Heel

Ok kids time for a little word association. Tell me the first thing you think of when I say - plantar fasciitis. If it starts with an F no need to articulate the sentiment, but you might want to read on.

And I Thank You

Shocking, yet not surprising, the year is coming to a close and it’s already time to shop bargains on turkey and squash.

Why You Should Call Your Podiatrist (even after hours)

It’s relatively late at night in the city as I write this, and many of my dear Manhattan podiatry patients may be wondering what it is I’m doing at this late hour, other than filling the annals of this most holy and sacred blog with more consecrated verbia

Heal Thyself

Summer’s over now kids, although if you’re like me summer is just winter with heat. Still, I do get a little pit in my stomach as Labor Day looms large on the calendar and the waning days of summer transform into the crisp breezes of autumn, and other line