Recently there has been a discussion in the media and on various blogs questioning the effectiveness of joint supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin. Quoting a few studies that purport to show the ineffectiveness of glucosamine and chondroitin in relieving pain in people with arthritis of the knees and hips, the erroneous conclusion that has been drawn is that joint supplements do not work.
Interestingly, those who hold this position ignore studies showing the positive effects of joint supplements when compared with placebo or the more traditional NSAID therapies.
One famous study that is often quoted by those who don’t believe in the value of joint supplements allowed participants to use the pain killer acetaminophen (at up to 10 times the normal label dosage.) It is well accepted that acetaminophen can interfere with the actions of glucosamine, so it is no surprise that the study did not find positive benefit in all of the participants. However, the study did conclude that “the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate may be effective in the subgroup of patients with moderate-to-severe knee pain.”
The same people who like to quote studies that supposedly show a lack of benefit for the use of joint supplements ignore the millions of people and pets who actually improve when using these supplements. In my own practice, natural therapies including joint supplements, acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal therapy, and cold laser therapy yield results far superior to the use of traditional conventional medicines (NSAIDS) with none of the side effects that can occur with conventional medical therapy. This is not a placebo effect:these are real patients with real pain (usually non-responsive to NSAID therapy) who improve dramatically when using joint supplements and other natural therapies. Dogs and cats whose owners had considered euthanasia due to the severity of their pets’ clinical signs now enjoy a few more years with pets who are walking normally and pain-free.
While skeptics often ignore the positive benefit of joint supplements seen in millions of patients clinically treated with these products, calling any positive response a “placebo” effect, they fail to offer any reasonable explanation of how this “placebo” effect consistently occurs in patients who fail to respond to conventional medical therapies.
I believe patients should be given a choice when deciding upon a treatment. If the patient chooses to use a joint supplement and it works for that patient, the patient benefits by using a therapy that tends to cost less and have fewer side effects than conventional medical therapy. If the joint supplement doesn’t work, the patient can always choose to use a conventional medical therapy.
In my experience, patients who choose joint supplements seem to be far more satisfied with the positive effects they experience than when they choose a conventional medical therapy. And for those patients who don’t respond to conventional medical therapy (and there are many,) the benefits of natural therapies such as joint supplements can allow them to heal and be free of pain when conventional medical therapies fail.
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