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Study of Glucosamine

In this article, we examine a glucosamine research analyzing a specific study of glucosamine to evaluate its effectiveness for osteoarthritis.
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Natural supplements are an important tool for combatting disease. Men and women all over the world depend on natural supplements to ensure that they're able to combat disease without the side effects of toxins of pharmaceutical medications.

But natural supplements tend to suffer from one problem – research into the efficacy of each ingredient is seriously lacking. There is very little funding into herbal medicine research, since most government and private equity dollars are spent on pharmaceutical medicine.

This means that there are some herbs, minerals, and nutrients that are simply ineffective at naturally treating health conditions, while other supplements that may be more valuable do not receive the attention they deserve.

Glucosamine Research and Osteoarthritis Treatment

According to several studies, glucosamine – particularly glucosamine sulfate – is one of the most common supplement types in the United States.

It's used for both prevention and treatment of osteoarthritis, which affects over 37,000,000 men and women, most of whom are over the age of 40. Osteoarthritis is a condition where the joints degenerate over time and cause pain and immobility.

Glucosamine is a type of amino-sugar, and once it's consumed by the body it becomes glycosaminoglycan, which is a component in joint cartilage. Thus glucosamine supplements are believed to help rebuild joint cartilage and prevent further breakdown in order to reduce the damage and pain caused by osteoarthritis.

Those that have osteoarthritis depend on glucosamine to manage their osteoarthritis symptoms. But many are concerned that there may not be enough glucosamine research in order to truly believe that the amino sugar is worth their daily intake.

Study of Glucosamine

Researchers at the University of Belgium engaged in their own glucosamine study in early 2001, in order to determine if the effects of glucosamine were real, or simply a result of the placebo effect. Their research paper was titled "Long-term Effects of Glucosamine Sulphate on Osteoarthritis Progression: A Randomised, Placebo-controlled Clinical Trial" and its full text can be found here.

The goal of this glucosamine study was to both help determine if previous glucosamine research was accurate, and to see if those suffering from severe joint discomfort made any improvements.

The hope was that this study of glucosamine would determine if pharmaceutical treatments normally used to treat osteoarthritis were necessary, or if the natural treatment options would be more/as effective.

The Methodology of the Glucosamine Study

For any study of glucosamine to be effective, it must be a "double blind study." This means that neither the patient nor the researchers know which patients are on placebo and which patients are on glucosamine.

To keep the researcher blind to the type of medication, the researcher handed out envelopes with numbers on them to the patients with the corresponding numbers. The envelopes were packed by someone other than the researcher, and the researcher was not notified or had access to information regarding which patients had which numbers.

Researchers used a sample of 212 patients, all of whom were over the age of 50. They decided to target knee osteoarthritis, as this type of arthritis is one of the most common and should be applicable to other joints.

To become part of the sample, osteoarthritis had to be determined to be the primary cause of knee pain. Rheumatoid arthritis patients were excluded, as would any patients that had other diseases or inflammation that may be causing knee pain.

Overweight patients were also excluded, as the physical demands of obesity on the joint can make it more difficult to determine the effectiveness of glucosamine and may increase injury risk.

Patients were then assigned to two different groups. Assignment to a group was randomized to prevent the inclusion of any biases, as is necessary to ensure the accuracy of the glucosamine research. 106 patients received a sugar pill/placebo, under the belief that it was an osteoarthritis treatment.

The other 106 patients received a supplement that contained 1500 mg of glucosamine sulfate. 1500mg is the most common daily dose approved in Europe.

The glucosamine researchers also set parameters for both the placebo and the research group regarding what types of additional joint medicines they were allowed to take in the event of an emergency, and tracked this data to avoid any extraneous variables.

Glucosamine Research Parameters

Research took place for three years. At the end of the three years, the researchers would view the osteoarthritis measurements.

Within this study of glucosamine, the researchers were looking for a wide range of factors to allow them to easily track changes.

One – and the most important tool for this type of research – was joint space narrowing, which is a common diagnostic tool for osteoarthritis. Because osteoarthritis refers to joint damage, those with a smaller joint space (the space between the bones of a joint) have worse osteoarthritis.

Measuring joint space narrowing would allow them to use an objective measurement system rather than self-reported pain or improvement, which would be too subjective and may not provide an accurate view of the effects of glucosamine.

They also measured the general symptoms of osteoarthritis using the WOMAC index – a self-report questionnaire developed by the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities to measure the severity of joint pain, with the higher the score representing more pain and severity.

Daily diaries, routine lab tests, and other measurements took place to ensure that any other factors that may affect osteoarthritis outcomes were accounted for.

At the end of three years, the data was collected, and compared to measure whether or not the glucosamine research yielded any significant differences.

Results of This Glucosamine Study

As is common in health research – especially with an aged population – several participants did drop out of the study. However, the researchers compared and contrasted several pieces of demographic data, WOMAC data, and joint narrowing data, and determined that there was no difference between those that dropped out of the placebo group, and those that dropped out of the glucosamine group, nor was there a significant difference in any measurements beyond those related to osteoarthritis in the remaining sample.

The results were very favorable for glucosamine.

Those taking glucosamine experienced less joint space narrowing than those with placebo.

Those taking glucosamine also experienced an improvement in their symptoms, while those taking a placebo indicated that their symptoms had become worse.

Twice as many patients taking placebo had what the researchers termed a "severe joint narrowing."

Overall, the results of the glucosamine study indicated that glucosamine is effective for most patients in reducing the effects of osteoarthritis and improving symptoms.

Limitations of Glucosamine Research

No research is perfect, and while the study of glucosamine described above used numerous tools to ensure the reliability of their data, there are potential limitations to this type of research. These include:

  • Some patients taking glucosamine did continue to experience a degeneration of their knee joints. This indicates that while glucosamine does appear to be very effective for improving long term outlook for those with joint pain, it may not be 100% effective for everyone that uses it.
  • Researchers in this glucosamine study used a medically approved level and type of glucosamine extract. Most herbal supplement manufacturers are not required to perform significant research on their own products. So it's important that you select a company with success in relieving osteoarthritis problems, and make sure you know the type of extraction and purification process they use on the glucosamine. It's possible that companies may use poor extraction procedures and deliver an amount or type of glucosamine that is not ideal for healthy joints.
  • Glucosamine is a long term treatment designed to nourish joints and prevent further breakdown. As a result, it needs to be taken for a significant period of time. It does not appear that glucosamine should be seen as a short term solution.

It's also important to note that in the scientific world, you should never depend on a single study. One of the reasons that scientists use the term "theory" is because scientists believe it's important to open up the possibility that the results of study are due to random chance.

However, based on this study of glucosamine and others, it strongly appears as though glucosamine is an effective treatment tool for improving the long term outlook of those living with osteoarthritis. Further research would be beneficial, but the glucosamine research over the last few decades indicate that glucosamine sulfate is an important natural supplement to improve long term outlook of those with osteoarthritis.

Next Article: Glucosamine Side Effects - Is it Safe?
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