Consider it another nail in the glucosamine coffin: A new study published today in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatology found that the popular supplement neither decreased pain nor prevented the deterioration of cartilage in people with knee pain due to osteoarthritis. Americans spent $813 million in 2012 on glucosamine and the related ingredient chondroitin sulfate. The ingredients are thought to help relieve arthritis pain since they're both building blocks of cartilage—the tough and flexible tissue that cushions the ends of knees and other joints, and which deteriorates in people with osteoarthritis.
In the trial, researchers at the University of Arizona randomly assigned 201 people with chronic knee pain to get either 1,500 milligrams a day of glucosamine dissolved in a bottle of lemonade or an identical-tasting placebo drink. After 24 weeks, the group that took glucosamine had no decrease in cartilage damage and reported no improvement in pain compared with the placebo group.
The researchers also examined whether the participants had any change in bone marrow lesions, more commonly called "bone bruises," which are thought to contribute to osteoarthritis pain. The control group actually had greater improvement in bone marrow lesions compared with the participants who took glucosamine.
Got joint pain? Learn about the best ways to get relief.
Glucosamine rose to mass popularity after some earlier research suggested that the ingredient, either alone or in combination with chondroitin sulfate, might reduce pain in certain people with osteoarthritis. In a large, multicenter trial published in 2006, researchers found some evidence that glucosamine and chondroitin alleviated pain in patients with moderate to severe knee osteoarthritis, the most common type. But subsequent studies have failed to show that those ingredients relieve joint pain or swelling any better than a placebo, and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons doesn't recommend taking the supplements, citing lack of efficacy.
What's more, joint supplements can interact with medication you take, including warfarin (Coumadin and generic), a commonly used blood-thinner. And our tests of the products have found that they don't always contain what the label says they do.
Bottom line. It can be tempting to try a natural remedy for arthritis, but don't waste your money on supplements that don't work. Read about other ways to ease joint pain, from massage to hot and cold packs. And if you want to take a pill, stick with over-the-counter ibuprofen (Advil and generic), naproxen (Aleve and generic), or acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic)—just make sure you stay within the recommended doses.