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Chondroitin sulfate works

TOULOUSE, FRANCE. Chondroitin sulfate is composed of repeating units of glucosamine with attached sugar molecules. It is a rather large molecule and is relatively poorly absorbed. Although chondroitin sulfate effectively inhibits the degradation of cartilage and increases the synthesis of hyaluronic acid (a vital joint lubricant) conventional wisdom has it that it is fairly ineffective in the treatment of osteoarthritis because of its poor absorbability.

A group of French researchers now challenge this assumption. In a just released study they conclude that chondroitin sulfate is indeed effective in reducing the pain, stiffness, and disability of osteoarthritis. The double-blind, randomized, parallel group study involved 130 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. The patients were assigned to receive either a 500 mg capsule of chondroitin sulfate twice a day or two identical looking placebo capsules daily for the duration of the three-month study. They were clinically assessed every month for the duration of the supplementation period and for the following three months.

At the end of the supplementation period the patients in the chondroitin group had decreased their algofunctional index (a composite measurement of disease severity) by 33 per cent as compared to a 19 per cent decrease in the placebo group. Self-assessed pain at rest decreased by 57 per cent in the chondroitin group versus 32 per cent in the placebo group. One month after the end of treatment the algofunctional index had decreased by 36 per cent over baseline in the chondroitin group as compared to a 16 per cent decrease in the placebo group. Self-assessed pain scores both at rest and during activity were also substantially lower for the chondroitin group. The researchers conclude that chondroitin sulfate is safe, well tolerated, and shows efficacy in the treatment of osteoarthritis. They recommend further work to support their initial findings. Editor's note: Glucosamine sulfate is generally considered to be more effective than chondroitin sulfate, but is not available in France.
Mazieres, Bernard, et al. Chondroitin sulfate in osteoarthritis of the knee: a prospective, double blind, placebo controlled multicenter clinical study. Journal of Rheumatology, Vol. 28, January 2001, pp. 173-81 [46 references]

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