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Dietary Supplements for Osteoarthritis

What Does the Research Really Show?
  -- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian
When cartilage that cushions your joints begins to breakdown faster than your body can replace it, you develop osteoarthritis. Without this protective tissue, the bones in your joints rub together, causing pain, tenderness, swelling and stiffness. Looking for a cure (or simple pain relief), many osteoarthritis sufferers seek help from the latest nutritional supplement. But before you waste your hard earned money (or put your health and safety on the line), it's important to find out what the research actually shows about these supplements.

Keep in mind that although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tightly regulates medications, it does not regulate dietary supplements, which can have little or no research to prove their safety or effectiveness. Always tell your doctor if you are taking any dietary supplements or if you are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional medical treatment. Supplement use may lead to overmedication and interactions, which have serious side effects. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely on dietary supplements alone. To avoid complications, talk to your physician first.

Best Choices: "Likely Effective" Supplements
These three supplements show the most promise (backed by research) for helping people with osteoarthritis.

Glucosamine sulfate is a simple molecule. Your body makes it from sugar and then uses it as a major building block of cartilage. There have been over 20 studies conducted on glucosamine sulfate and osteoarthritis. Most of the studies used a brand called Dona by Rotta Pharmaceuticals. According to these studies, glucosamine sulfate: (Please note that only a few studies have examined glucosamine hydrochloride, which has mixed results and lacks evidence to support its use.)

Chondroitin sulfate is a molecule that gives cartilage its resistance and elasticity. According to preliminary studies, chondroitin sulfate: (Please note that glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate are often combined, but the evidence to support this combination is limited.)

SAMe (s-adenosylmethionine) is a compound produced in the body. Your liver makes it from the amino acid methionine, and it plays an essential role in the formation of hormones, neurotransmitters, and phospholipids. The preferred form of SAMe is the butanedisulfonate salt, which has the highest bioavailability and is more stable than the tosylate salt. Preliminary research indicates that SAMe: (Please note that SAMe can be a very costly supplement.)
Fair Choices: "Possibly Effective" Supplements
These supplements show some promise for helping people with osteoarthritis, but aren't backed by as much research as the choices above.

Vitamin Supplements Supplements from Herbs and Plants: Supplements from Other Sources:
Poor Choices: "Possibly Ineffective" Supplements
These supplements show little or mixed results for helping people with osteoarthritis. Many of these lack credible research for safety and effectiveness. When it comes to treating, preventing or slowing the progression of osteoarthritis, there is insufficient evidence or limited research to support the safety or effectiveness of following supplements: There's nothing wrong with looking for alternatives to treating osteoarthritis. While many people are opposed to prescription medications, possibly fearing adverse side effects, it's important to remember that prescription drugs are tightly regulated, tested, and evaluated and approved for use by the FDA. No supplements are tested as thoroughly as medications are. Using supplements, vitamins, and herbs involves risks as well. Always discuss supplementation with your health care provider before making a decision on your own.