Chondroitin Sulfate May Be Beneficial for Those with
Osteoarthritis is one of the leading causes of disability in Americans over
the age of 15. This joint condition is characterized by the breakdown of
cartilage, the substance that cushions and protects the ends of bones. It
commonly affects joints in the hands, feet, knees, and hips. When cartilage is
worn away, the bones rub against each other, causing pain, tenderness, swelling,
and limited movement.
There are several basic principles to living with osteoarthritis: try to
maintain a healthy weight (to reduce pressure on joints); add low-impact
exercises, like swimming or bicycling, to your life (these are easy on the
joints and can tone the muscles surrounding them); and find ways to control your
pain. (Note: complementary and alternative medicine may offer a forth tenet:
rebuild cartilage with supplements such as glucosamine sulfate.) While
very painful cases of osteoarthritis may require surgery, more mild conditions
can often be managed with pain-reducing medications. Conventional medications
help relieve symptoms but may also have undesirable side effects. One natural
remedy, chondroitin sulfate, offers a promising alternative. Studies have shown
it to be beneficial in the pain management of osteoarthritis but with fewer side
effects than conventional medications.
Chondroitin sulfate occurs naturally in the body's joint tissue. It appears
to help cartilage absorb shock and keep it from breaking down. Chondroitin
sulfate supplements are made from the cartilage of animals. Some complementary
and alternative health practitioners have dismissed them since they are not as
well absorbed by the body as glucosamine sulfate supplements. However, some
researchers recently reviewed studies that tested the effects of chondroitin
sulfate on osteoarthritis of the knee and hip. The trials analyzed included 372
people taking chondroitin sulfate for osteoarthritis. In all seven studies
reviewed, chondroitin sulfate reduced osteoarthritis symptoms and the use of
pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
Although the total number of people in these studies is not large, the
consistency of the findings is worth noting.
If you choose to take chondroitin sulfate, the recommended daily dosage is
from 800 to 1,600 milligrams. The dosage right for you depends on your weight.
If you weigh less than 120 pounds, opt for the lower amounts. If you weigh more
than 200 pounds, take the higher levels. Benefits usually take 4 weeks to
appear. Although less common than in NSAIDs, you may have some stomach upset as
a side effect of this supplement. Since the FDA does not currently regulate
dietary supplements, look for a standardized product from a company you
trust.Note: some experts recommend that chondroitin sulfate should only
be taken in combination with glucosamine sulfate (1,000 to 2,000 milligrams per
The bottom line: although more studies are called for, chondroitin sulfate
appears to reduce osteoarthritis pain—and since it has
not been associated with severe side effects, it should be safe to try. As
always, be sure to talk with your physician or pharmacist since some supplements
should not be taken if you have certain medical conditions or are taking
particular prescription medications.
Glucosamine sulfate: A substance produced by the body that helps to
reduce pain, make new cartilage, and repair and protect the body's existing
cartilage. Glucosamine sulfate supplements are made from crab shells.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): A large class of drugs
commonly used to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and lower fevers. Side
effects may include stomach upset and intestinal bleeding. Ibuprofen is a common
Das AK, Hammad T, Eitel J. Efficacy of a new class of agents (glucosamine and
chondroitin sulfate) in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee: a
randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. American Academy of
Orthopaedic Surgeons 1999 Annual Meeting. February 6, 1999.
Friedrich, MJ. Steps toward understanding, alleviating osteoarthritis will
help aging population. JAMA Web site. Accessed at
http://jama.ama-assn.org on January 17, 2000.
Integrative Medicine Access: Professional Reference to Conditions, Herbs
& Supplements. Newton, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications;
Leeb BF, Schweitzer H, Montag K, Smolen JS. A metaanalysis of chondroitin
sulfate in the treatment of osteoarthritis. J Rheumatol.
Maleskey G. Nature's Medicines. Rodale Press; 1999.
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