Glucosamine May Not Aid Osteoarthritic Knees

October 17, 2009

Prior studies of glucosamine and its role in the prevention of joint damage in knee OA have produced conflicting results, but a recent study found that the odds of worsening cartilage damage in a glucosamine group were the same as for patients given a placebo.

Press Release - American College of Rheumatology

Glucosamine may not help to prevent joint damage in osteoarthritis of the knee, according to research presented this week at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting in Philadelphia, Pa.

Osteoarthritis, or OA as it is commonly called, is the most common joint disease affecting middle-aged and older people. It is characterized by progressive damage to the joint cartilage—the slippery material at the end of long bones—and causes changes in the structures around the joint. These changes can include fluid accumulation, bony overgrowth, and loosening and weakness of muscles and tendons, all of which may limit movement and cause pain and swelling.

Most commonly affected are the weight-bearing joints—the knees, hips and spine. Osteoarthritis in the knee and hip areas can generate chronic pain or discomfort during standing or walking.

Prior studies of glucosamine and its role in the prevention of joint damage in knee OA, as assessed by X-ray, have produced conflicting results. Researchers recently set out to determine the short-term effectiveness of glucosamine in preventing of the worsening of cartilage damage in knee OA in a 24-week study.

The study included 201 participants—49 percent were women—with a mean age of 52 years old—who had mild to moderate knee pain. Participants were randomly placed into two groups with 98 participants receiving glucosamine and 103 receiving placebo.

Each participant had an MRI and knee X-rays performed on both knees at the beginning of the study and again at 24 weeks into the study. Researchers factored in things like age, sex, body mass index and joint space narrowing to determine the odds of developing cartilage damage, bone marrow lesions and synovitis in both groups.

Researchers found that the odds of worsening cartilage damage in the glucosamine group were the same as for those patients in the placebo group. The odds of worsening bone lesions were also found to be the same for both groups. In addition, when using a urine biomarker as a basis for comparison, no difference in cartilage synthesis was found between the two groups,

“In this six-month study using state-of-the-art MR imaging we were not able to demonstrate any benefit of glucosamine on the prevention of worsening joint damage in individuals with mild to moderate knee pain,” explains C. Kent Kwoh, MD; professor of medicine and epidemiology, division of rheumatology and clinical immunology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pa., and lead investigator in the study.