Time to stop glucosamine and chondroitin for knee OA?

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Prior studies provided conflicting results regarding the efficacy of these medications. This study offers evidence for discontinuing them.


Tell patients with moderately severe osteoarthritis to stop taking their glucosamine and chondroitin as it is less effective than placebo.1


B: Based on single, good-quality randomized controlled trial.

Roman-Blas JA, Castañeda S, Sánchez-Pernaute O, et al. Combined treatment with chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate shows no superiority over placebo for reduction of joint pain and functional impairment in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a six-month multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Arthritis Rheumatol. 2017;69:77-85.




A 65-year-old man with moderately severe osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee presents to your office for his annual exam. During the medication review, the patient mentions he is using glucosamine and chondroitin for his knee pain, which was recommended by a family member.

Should you tell the patient it’s okay to continue the medication?

Knee OA in the United States is a common condition and affects an estimated 12% of adults 60 years and older and 16% of adults 70 years and older.2 The primary goals of OA therapy are to minimize pain and improve function. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) and the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) agree that first-line treatment recommendations include aerobic exercise, resistance training, and weight loss.

Initial pharmacologic therapies include full-strength acetaminophen or oral/topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (either initially or if unresponsive to acetaminophen).3,4 Alternative medication options for patients with an inadequate response to initial therapy include tramadol, other opioids, duloxetine, or intra-articular injections with corticosteroids or hyaluronate.3,4 Total knee replacement may be indicated in moderate or severe knee OA with radiographic evidence of OA.5 Vitamin D, lateral wedge insoles, and antioxidants are not currently recommended.6

Prior studies evaluating glucosamine and/or chondroitin have provided conflicting results regarding evidence on pain reduction, function, and quality of life. Therefore, guidelines on OA management do not recommend their use (AAOS, strong; ACR, conditional recommendation).3,4 However, consumption remains high, with 6.5 million US adults reporting use of glucosamine and/or chondroitin in the prior 30 days.7

A 2015 systematic review of 43 randomized trials evaluating oral chondroitin sulfate for OA of varying severity suggested there may be a significant decrease in short-term and long-term pain with doses of ≥800 mg/d compared with placebo (level of evidence, low; risk of bias, high).8 However, no significant difference was noted in short- or long-term function, and the trials were highly heterogeneous.

Studies included in the 2015 systematic review found that glucosamine plus chondroitin did not have a significant effect on short- or long-term pain or physical function compared with placebo. Although glucosamine plus chondroitin led to significantly decreased pain compared with other medication, sensitivity analyses conducted for larger studies (N>200) with adequate methods of blinding and allocation concealment found no difference in pain.8

Continue to: Three studies included...


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