Dr. Jean-Yves Reginster of Liege State University in Belgium and colleagues recruited 604 people over age 50 with knee osteoarthritis (OA) from five European countries and randomly assigned them to take 800 mg extra-pure chondroitin sulfate (Chondrosulf), 200 mg celecoxib or a placebo every day for six months.
Those who took chondroitin sulfate or celecoxib had similar levels of pain relief at the end of the study, and in both groups the improvement was greater than for those taking just a placebo, according to the report May 22 online in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.1
Reginster tells Reuters Health the findings are in line with earlier studies showing pharmaceutical-grade chondroitin sulfate could significantly decrease the progression of knee OA over a period of three years.
He stressed that pharmaceutical-grade chondroitin is not the same as over-the-counter supplements, which are made differently and can’t get into the joint in high enough concentrations to combat the causes of cartilage degradation and pain.
European regulatory bodies recommend pharmaceutical-grade chondroitin sulfate, as well as pharmaceutical-grade glucosamine sulfate, as first-line treatments for OA, Reginster says by email, because of the side effects associated with celecoxib and other non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including stomach ulcers, bleeding, liver and kidney problems.
Dr. Michael Shepard of Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Orange, Calif., noted that the study had a relatively low number of participants and that most U.S. studies of this type would run two years rather than six months.
In addition, U.S.-based studies of chondroitin have had mixed results, says Shepard, who wasn’t involved in the study. Some have found the supplements to be as effective as ibuprofen (also an NSAID), and some have found that chondroitin sulfate is no more effective than placebo, he tells Reuters Health.
“I tell my patients, ‘buyer beware,’” Dr. Shepard say. “I tell them about the mixed results of chondroitin in the literature. I tell them to try chondroitin for one month as a trial and if they like it and feel better with it, then keep taking it.”
If chondroitin doesn’t work for them, he suggests taking an NSAID periodically, and to be aware of the side effects.
“If you are going to stay on an NSAID for a prolonged period then you need regular follow up with your doctor,” Shepard cautions.