Osteoarthritis is a painful degenerative disease of the cartilage and adjacent bone of joints. Most elderly people are afflicted to some extent, while younger people are also at risk, especially if they have suffered joint trauma, have had repetitive use of certain joints due to occupation or lifestyle, or if they are obese. It is estimated that 21 million American adults suffer from the disease, and many of those use medication to relieve the associated pain.
Unfortunately, there is a major downside associated with many of the available anti-inflammatory drugs—undesirable side-effects. In 2005, several well-known and widely prescribed medications have been withdrawn for this very reason, thus leaving sufferers of osteoarthritis with even fewer alternatives.
However, in recent years two naturally occurring supplements—glucosamine and chondroitin—have become increasingly popular as the treatment of choice for many people. Both of these substances are found naturally in the human body: glucosamine is an amino sugar that stimulates the formation and repair of cartilage; chondroitin is a carbohydrate that promotes elasticity and prevents other enzymes from degrading joint cartilage.
There are many published studies which reported a similar level of pain relief obtained from glucosamine and chondroitin to that attainable from medication such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Some research also indicates that the supplements might be able to slow down the rate of further cartilage damage. But the really great news is that no study has so far found any serious side effects from either of these natural products.
Some of the research findings have been criticized as possibly having bias or for not being conducted over a long enough period. However, a major long-term study is currently being conducted by the National Institutes of Health, the results of which are expected in 2005. In the meantime, conservative bodies such as the Arthritis Foundation have cautiously advised sufferers of osteoarthritis to try the supplements for themselves as there is very little risk and they may well provide the pain relief they desire.