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Is glucosamine helpful for arthritis?

Glucosamine may provide modest pain relief for some patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, hip and spine. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database classified glucosamine as “likely effective” for osteoarthritis, thus rating it higher than chondroitin. Most of the studies included in the recommendation were done in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Because glucosamine is very safe, it can be tried in place of NSAIDs in patients who need long-term treatment and cannot take NSAIDs.

However, some studies show that glucosamine provides the same pain relief as a placebo (a pill that does not contain any medicine). This is called a “placebo effect,” in which the patients expect to feel better, so they do. An example is a study published in 2010 in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found glucosamine did not provide additional pain relief compared to placebo in people with chronic lower back pain caused by osteoarthritis in the lower spine. Half of the participants took glucosamine (1,500 milligrams daily) and the other half took a placebo. Both groups said their lower back pain improved by about 50 percent over one year. However, due to small number of people involved in the study, more research is needed to confirm these results for lower spine OA.