ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Herbal Remedy Could Halt Peanut Allergy
Climate Change Could Sting Allergy, Asthma Sufferers
Asthmatics Who Quit Smoking May Reverse Lung Damage
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Ginkgo No Shield Against Alzheimer's
Soybean Chemicals May Reduce Effects of Menopause
Needling Away Your Headaches With Acupuncture
ANIMAL CARE
Safe Toys for Dogs
Beware of Dog Bites
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
BONES & JOINTS
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
Bone Loss Stable on Restricted Calorie Diet
New Clues to How Fish Oils Help Arthritis Patients
CANCER
Physical Activity May Prolong Survival After Colon Cancer
Vitamin E, Selenium and Soy Won't Prevent Prostate Cancer
Vitamin D May Improve Melanoma Survival
CAREGIVING
Health Tip: Benefitting From Adult Day Care
Robots May Come to Aging Boomers' Rescue
Babies Born in High Pollen Months at Wheezing Risk
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Smog Tougher on the Obese
Health Tip: Are You Anemic?
A Brisk Pace May Keep Stroke at Bay
COSMETIC
Contact Lenses Boost Kids' Self-Image
Get Sugared!.... Its a sweet choice for hair removal
The Acne Drug Accutane More Than Doubles Depression Risk
DENTAL, ORAL
Mom's Vitamin D Levels Affect Baby's Dental Health
Health Tip: At Risk for Gingivitis
Gum Disease May Reactivate AIDS Virus
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Brown Rice Bests White for Diabetes Prevention
Chamomile Tea May Ward Off Diabetes Damage
Spices, Herbs Boost Health for Diabetics
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Polyunsaturated Fats Really May Lower Heart Risk
Pesticides on Produce Tied to ADHD in Children
Adding Garlic Might Cut Cancer Risk
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Air Pollution May Cause Appendicitis: Study Reveals
Heavy Traffic Can Be Heartbreaking
Freckles, Moles May Indicate Risk for Eye Cancer
EYE CARE, VISION
Sports Eye Injuries Leading Cause of Blindness in Youths
When Gauging Age, the Eyes Have It
Stem Cells Repair Damaged Corneas in Mice
FITNESS
Super Bowl Loss Can 'Kill' Some Fans
Weak Muscles May Cause 'Runner's Knee'
Exercise in Adolescence May Cut Risk of Deadly Brain Tumor
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
Intestinal Bacteria Trigger Immune Response
GENERAL HEALTH
When Healing Becomes a Commodity
Surgical Masks Could Prevent Flu, Maybe
Healthy Living Adds Years to Life
HEAD & NECK
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Magnet Therapy May Ease Hard-to-Treat Depression
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Save Your Aging Brain, Try Surfing The Web
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
B-Vitamins Help Protect Against Stroke, Heart Disease
A Little Alcohol May Help the Heart: Studies
Vigorous Exercise Cuts Stroke Risk for Men, Not Women
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Surgical Masks Could Prevent Flu, Maybe
Swine Flu Closes Three Schools in NYC
Grapefruit Compound Inhibits Hepatitis C Virus
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Green Tea May Help Brain Cope With Sleep Disorders
Folic Acid Reduces Infant Heart Defects
Obesity May Raise Kids' Allergy Risk
MEN'S HEALTH
Drinking Green Tea May Slow Prostate Cancer
Strenuous Daily Workout May Keep Cancer at Bay
Exercise May Prevent Prostate Cancer: Study Shows
MENTAL HEALTH
Cinnamon Breaks Up Brain Plaques, May Hold Key to Fighting Alzheimer’s
Drink Away Dementia?
A Simple 'Thank You' Brings Rewards to All
PAIN
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
Sugary Colas Tied to Gestational Diabetes
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
SENIORS
Video Gaming Just Might Fight Aging
Friends, Not Grandkids, Key to Happy Retirement
Any Old Cane Won't Do
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
Better Sleep, Grades Seem to Go Up
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Health Tip: Be More Comfortable During Childbirth
Occaisonal Dieting May Cut Breast Cancer, Study Says
Iodine in Prenatal Vitamins Varies Widely
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Studies Struggle to Gauge Glucosamine's Worth

FRIDAY, Jan. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Eager to relieve joint pain and repair the cushioning between bones, millions of arthritis sufferers reach for glucosamine, an over-the-counter dietary supplement.

Despite its popularity, studies examining the effectiveness of this natural therapy have yielded mixed results.

"There is still a lot of uncertainty about glucosamine," said Dr. Steven C. Vlad, a fellow in clinical epidemiology and rheumatology at Boston University School of Medicine.

So what is glucosamine, anyway? It's a type of sugar that the body produces and distributes in cartilage and other connective tissue. Chondroitin sulfate, often taken in combination with glucosamine, is a complex carbohydrate that helps cartilage retain water, according to the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

These substances are derived from animal tissues, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Glucosamine is extracted from crab, lobster or shrimp shells, and chondroitin sulfate comes from animal cartilage, such as tracheas or shark cartilage.

Vlad's own study tried to determine why the results of glucosamine trials differed so widely. Of the 15 studies he reviewed, there was one clear finding: A particular glucosamine preparation, called glucosamine hydrochloride, doesn't work.

Results among trials involving another common preparation, glucosamine sulfate, showed wide variation -- more than would be expected by chance. Based on the evidence, Vlad concluded that supplement industry support could be a source of bias in some of these studies.

Although critics questioned Vlad's finding, he stands by the results. "Numerous analyses have showed that industry funding is correlated with stronger findings and selective publication of positive results," he noted.

More recently, researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine reported results from a follow-up to an earlier glucosamine trial. Arthritis patients in this leg of the study took glucosamine; a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin; the anti-inflammatory drug celecoxib (Celebrex), or a placebo. X-rays were taken of patients' knees before the trial began and one and two years later to determine whether glucosamine alone, or in combination with chondroitin, would slow the loss of cartilage.

Lead author Dr. Allen D. Sawitzke, an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine, said he and his colleagues had hoped to have enough patients and measurement accuracy to be able to show some slowing of the damage, but in the end, the results were inconclusive.

"So, it's an example of a null study, that is, a study where there is no difference detected, which isn't the same as saying there is no difference," Sawitzke said.

Dr. Jason Theodosakis, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and author of the book, The Arthritis Cure, said the study was flawed in many ways, including the small sample size, short duration and imprecise X-ray methodology. "I really can't believe it was even published," he said.

Like many physicians, Theodosakis continues to recommend glucosamine and chondroitin. "This study does nothing to discourage that," he said.

Trying glucosamine for 60 days makes sense, especially for patients who can't tolerate ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, said Dr. Stephen Dahmer, a former fellow in integrative medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, and now a staff physician at the VA San Diego Medical Center.

Sawitzke said he sees some merit in the supplement for pain relief, but there's a lot less evidence to support glucosamine as a way to slow cartilage damage.

Vlad, however, tells patients he's doubtful it works very well, if at all. "But I also tell them that it is safe and will not hurt them. If they want to try it, they are more than free to do so at any time, with the understanding that no insurance company will pay for it."

-Karen Pallarito

More information

For advice on choosing a pain medicine, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.



SOURCES: Steven C. Vlad, M.D., fellow, clinical epidemiology and rheumatology, Boston University School of Medicine; Allen D. Sawitzke, M.D., associate professor, medicine, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City; Jason Theodosakis, M.D., assistant professor, University of Arizona College of Medicine, and author, The Arthritis Cure; Stephen Dahmer, M.D., staff physician, VA San Diego Medical Center; U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Bethesda, Md.; Arthritis Foundation, Atlanta; July 2007 and October 2008 Arthritis & Rheumatism; Aug. 15, 2008, American Family Physician

Last Updated: Feb. 01, 2009

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