Glucosamine and Chondroitin

The latest research into the supplements glucosamine and chondroitin demonstrates they are ineffective.

Compare that statement with one from a BBC report in 2001.

"Scientists have produced evidence that a food supplement can help to reduce the long-term suffering associated with the crippling disease osteoarthritis."

The study they cited demonstrated that patients receiving the supplement showed a 20-25% improvement in their symptoms compared with the placebo group whose symptoms had slightly worsened.

The study sounded unequivocal but, even at that time, other researchers were challenging the efficacy of these supplements.

The latest article reviewed the findings of 10 trials. The researchers, from Bern University, found no evidence of a benefit other than a placebo effect. No evidence of a reduction in joint pain and no evidence or any impact on narrowing of joint space when compared with the placebo group.


Glucosamine and chondroitin are naturally produced in the body and are used to make cartilage. The thinking therefore goes that taking them as a supplement will boost cartilage growth.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin
A Real Effect or a Placebo?

One of the main problems for individual patients trying to assess the efficacy of these supplements is in accounting for all the other factors that might play affect their symptoms.

Osteoarthritis is known to come and go in cycles often referred to as flare-ups. If a person was to take the supplement at a time in the diseases cycle coinciding with a flare up dying out they might well ascribe the loss of pain to the supplement and not to the cyclical nature of the condition.

Other factors that influence pain levels, such as activity, weight bearing, cold and damp also make it hard to get a clear picture.

And there is also the idea that anyone in significant pain just wants it to work and will be biased towards evidence that the supplements are effective and disregard or rationalise away contrary evidence.

I took glucosamine for a few years and found it to be totally ineffective. Other people I know and trust swear by it and with global sales worth £1.3 billion they are not alone.

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