Harvard Health Letter

Ask the doctor: Glucosamine and chondroitin benefits?

Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D.

Q. Where do you stand on glucosamine and chondroitin? Do you think they're helpful or just hype?

A. Randomized clinical trials have compared each of these two supplements, alone and in combination, against placebo in people suffering from osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. An analysis of 10 different studies that included nearly 4,000 patients concluded that there was not much evidence of reduced pain from glucosamine and chondroitin. Some studies have found a temporary benefit (for several months) among patients with the greatest degree of pain, but the benefit then disappeared. On the other hand, there also was no evidence of side effects from these substances.

In contrast, randomized trials comparing nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to placebo have found a benefit. So it appears that NSAIDs offer more certain relief than glucosamine and chondroitin. However, NSAIDs also can cause adverse effects that glucosamine and chondroitin do not have.

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