Chondroitin, an ingredient in arthritis supplements that sell in excess of $1 billion a year, does not relieve hip or knee pain stemming from osteoarthritis any better than a placebo, according to new research.

This cartilage extract is often combined with the amino sugar glucosamine, in capsules and pills specifically to ease arthritis pain and slow joint deterioration caused by the disease. Chondrotin-glucosamine products are among the most popular over-the-counter products sold at healthfood stores, vitamin shops and pharmacies.

"Chondroitin is not efficacious for pain in osteoarthritis," says Dr. David T. Felson, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University. "I don't recommend that patients start taking glucosamine and chondroitin, because glucosamine also doesn't work."

However, he adds the supplements are not dangerous and may provide a placebo effect in which patients feel better because they believe the products work.

The Studies

Felson's comments come after a close examination, by a team of Swiss researchers, on data on 20 previous studies involving more than 3,600 patients with osteoarthritis. In each of those studies, chondroitin was compared with a placebo or no treatment.

The researchers say that in people with advanced osteoarthritis, chondroitin is no more beneficial than a placebo. They also find no evidence showing any pain-relieving effect of chondroitin for early osteoarthritis.

Those researchers, like Felson, say that the use of chondroitin should be "discouraged" by doctors who treat the 21 million Americans with osteoarthritis.

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