Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: Can glucosamine and chondroitin help osteoarthritis?

Q. I'm 52 years old. Should I take glucosamine and chondroitin to relieve my osteoarthritis pain and maintain cartilage?

A. Glucosamine and chondroitin are compounds found in healthy cartilage. Because osteoarthritis involves the degradation of normal cartilage, it would seem to make sense that taking supplements of these compounds could help maintain cartilage in people with the condition. Early anecdotal reports and small studies did suggest that the two compounds held great promise for relieving pain related to osteoarthritis. However, glucosamine and chondroitin—either together or alone—did not pass muster when they were studied in large controlled clinical trials. Their effect on pain and cartilage was no better than that of a placebo (inactive treatment) in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip.

Experts have determined that glucosamine and chondroitin offer little benefit for treating osteoarthritis, except perhaps in people with moderate to severe pain. Given the lack of scientific evidence, it would not make sense to recommend these products to all women your age. However, if you are not concerned about the cost, there are very few risks associated with taking glucosamine or chondroitin. People with shellfish allergies, though, should avoid these supplements because some products use shellfish as a source of glucosamine.

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