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Glucosamine sulfate combats osteoarthritis

LIEGE, BELGIUM. Alternative medicine practitioners have long advocated glucosamine sulfate (GLS) for the treatment of osteoarthritis. It would appear that conventional medicine is now also realizing the benefits of this safe nutritional supplement. A team of Belgian, British and Italian medical researchers report that daily supplementation with glucosamine sulfate can markedly reduce pain and other symptoms and actually repair cartilage damage in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.

Their study involved 212 patients who were randomized to receive either a placebo or 1500 mg/day of GLS for three years in a double-blind clinical study. The researchers measured the joint space between the tibia (shin bone) and the femur (thigh bone) at the beginning and end of the study by digital x-ray analysis. They also assessed the symptoms of osteoarthritis (joint pain, stiffness, and limitation of physical function) using the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities (WOMAC) osteoarthritis index.

After three years the patients on the placebo had experienced a further narrowing of their joint space (an indicator of disease progression) of 0.31 mm. The patients in the GLS group, on the other hand, saw their average joint space widen by 0.07 mm indicating an improvement. The difference in disease progression was even more impressive when looking at the minimum joint space. Here a 0.40 mm narrowing was observed in the placebo takers as compared to a 0.11 mm widening in the GLS group. This group also reported an average 24.3 per cent reduction in the severity of their symptoms (WOMAC scale) as compared to the 9.8 per cent worsening of symptoms observed in the placebo group.
Dr. Tim McAlindon of the Boston University Medical Center calls the study a landmark in osteoarthritis research and concludes his editorial review with the remark that it is time for the medical profession to "accommodate the possibility that many nutritional products may have valuable therapeutic effects".
Reginster, Jean Yves, et al. Long-term effects of glucosamine sulphate on osteoarthritis progression: a randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial. The Lancet, Vol. 357, January 27, 2001, pp. 251-56
McAlindon, Tim. Glucosamine for osteoarthritis: dawn of a new era? The Lancet, Vol. 357, January 27, 2001, pp. 247-48 (commentary)

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