Alternative Relief for Arthritis?


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Alternative Relief for Arthritis?

Most Promising Study Yet

By Mary Harris
B O S T O N, The newest hope for people with a common form of arthritis is not a drug, but an over-the-counter nutritional supplement.

It's a new alternative therapy for osteoarthritis - cheaper than traditional prescription therapy, available over the counter, and almost devoid of side effects, according to research made public today at the American College of Rheumatology's annual scientific sessions in Boston.

The therapy involves a nutritional supplement called Glucosamine, and it is being studied on osteoarthritis, the gradual deterioration of cartilage that cushions bones in the joints. Osteoarthritis accounts for about half of all arthritis cases, with symptoms including joint pain concentrated in the knees and hips. If untreated, many osteoarthritis patients eventually will face total joint replacement, or disability.

The research unveiled today comes from the University of Liege in Belgium. It involved an international team randomly assigning 212 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee to take either Glucosamine or a placebo daily for three years. Every four months, scientists surveyed the patients to measure the pain and discomfort associated with their osteoarthritis. Researchers also took regular knee X-rays to monitor the disease's progression.

The results show that while the patients in the placebo group saw their symptoms worsen slightly, including joint narrowing, the patients taking Glucosamine improved, and their joints did not narrow.

More Studies to Follow Glucosamine therapy for arthritis has drawn so much interest that other major studies are under way, including one at the University of Utah, which received a $6.6 million grant in September from the National Institutes of Health. But the research presented today is one of the first long-term studies of Glucosamine use for arthritis; most previous research has followed patients for no more than a few months.

In addition, while most osteoarthritis research focuses on relieving symptoms and pain, this is one of the first studies to demonstrate how Glucosamine works-by keeping the joints from narrowing.

"This news affects a great number of patients," says Dr. Daniel Clegg, the University of Utah professor of medicine directing the clinical trials funded by the new NIH grant. "It would be very intriguing to have a dietary supplement that affects not only the pain [of osteoarthritis] but changes the course of the disease."

Glucosamine is a natural substance found in and around the cells of cartilage. Researchers hypothesize that it may help repair and maintain cartilage, inhibit inflammation, and stimulate growth of cartilage cells.

They also emphasize that while these preliminary results are encouraging, further research is needed, on larger groups.

Mary Harris, based in Boston, is a researcher for the ABC Medical Unit