The idea of using natural approaches for knee pain has been around for quite some time. Glucosamine began to hit the scenes when I was still in school.
Yes indeed. The first clinical trial, while I was in chiropractic school, was on a brontosaurus. Sure, weight loss would’ve helped and the vegetarian diet was definitely anti-inflammatory, but the real problem was getting them into the MRI scanner for the imaging.
(And, for the paleontology geeks out there, I am aware that the brontosaurus was actually an apotosaurus…)
Ok…so maybe the research hasn’t been around quite THAT long, but there are times when it sure seems like it. And quite frankly, the research over the years has been a blend of “OK” and negative (as in not helping at all). Personally, I think this has happened for several reasons:
- Many patients put into trials do not have knee pain caused by arthritis. Just because you have arthritis on imaging does NOT, I repeat–does NOT, mean that arthritis is causing your problems. In many cases, the soft tissues surrounding the knee are the problem. Glucosamine is not going to help a shred if this is the case.
- There are definitely issues of the quality of the supplements used. You get what you pay for.
- The study length was not sufficient. While there is some anti-inflammatory action of glucosamine, this is not likely its strong point. Following up for 6 months is not likely to show much of a difference versus a study that lasts years.
All of this brings us to this particular study. In it, researchers set up the details in a slightly different manner than previous studies. Specifically, they followed 600 patients with knee osteoarthritis for 6 years and determined whether or not they were taking prescriptions (anti-inflammatory drugs, analgesics) and/or a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement. They then looked at structural changes of the knee (loss of joint space width and cartilage volume). Here’s what they found:
- In the group NOT taking analgesic/NSAIDs, those who were taking the glucosamine / chondrotin lost less cartilage volume after 2 years (over the medial central plateau).
- This protective effect of Glu/CS occurred in participants with more severe osteoarthritis.
- In the group who were taking the analgesic/NSAIDs, those taking Glu/CS also lost less cartilage volume (global plateau at 12 months and the central plateau at 24 months.
Overall, this study did NOT look at how much knee pain the participants had, but rather looked objectively at how the knee joint itself was responding to the glucosamine and chondroitin. And the results are very heartening.
Even more so when you consider that the drugs used to treat knee osteoarthritis symptoms are well-known to actually destroy the lining of the joint you are trying to prevent. Despite this underlying damage from the medications, this natural approach to joint health was powerful enough to protect.