Glucosamine doesn't work? Anatomy of a hit job on an effective treatment

August 4, 2014

The headline is typical of those bashing alternative therapies: "Glucosamine fails to prevent deterioration of knee cartilage, decrease pain."


Glucosamine is commonly taken by individuals with joint pain. Why? Because it works for them, or at least that's what they tell me. And that's what the studies have shown.


Glucosamine sulfate has been consistently shown not only to relieve joint pain as well as ibuprofen, but to actually help regenerate cartilage in the degenerated joints of those with osteoarthritis. It can even significantly reduce the probability that total joint replacement surgery will be needed. Ain't no drug that can do the same.


But in the study behind the headline declaring glucosamine failed to benefit knee pain and degeneration, a little detail is buried. That study used glucosamine hydrochloride (aka glucosamine HCl), rather than glucosamine sulfate. The hydrochloride form of glucosamine has consistently failed to show benefits, while the sulfate form has consistently shown benefits. The three studies showing glucosamine as beneficial that I linked to above all used glucosamine sulfate.


Before their clinical trial began, the authors of this new study surely did a search of the research literature on glucosamine. In that search it is difficult to imagine they wouldn't have uncovered the considerable evidence that the sulfate form is the more beneficial. They would also have discovered that prior studies found the hydrochloride form doesn't show benefit. So why, do you think, they studied the the hydrochloride form?


Because it worked exactly like it was intended to work: it garnered a headline declaring an alternative therapy doesn't work. Another hit job on a valuable therapy. Mission accomplished.



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