ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Air Quality Better in Northeast, Midwest
Childhood Food Allergies on the Rise
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Yoga May Bring Calm to Breast Cancer Treatment
No Verdict Yet on Grape Seed Extract vs. Breast Cancer
Bitter Melon Extract May Slow, Stop Breast Cancer
ANIMAL CARE
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
Safe Toys for Dogs
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
BONES & JOINTS
Breast-feeding Might Shield Women From Rheumatoid Arthritis
Exercise Key Player in Knee Replacement Recovery
Most Women With Osteoporosis Unaware of Raised Fracture Risk
CANCER
Wristbands May Lessen Nausea After Radiation
Hypnosis Cuts Hot Flashes for Breast Cancer Survivors
Sharing Cancer Info May Be Empowering
CAREGIVING
UV Lights, Fans May Curb TB Spread in Hospitals
Study of Everest Climbers Questions Oxygen Use
Early Exercise Boosts Outcomes for ICU Patients
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Bye, Bye Back Fat?
Review Confirms Links Between Diet, Heart Health
Walk 100 Steps a Minute for 'Moderate' Exercise
COSMETIC
The Acne Drug Accutane More Than Doubles Depression Risk
With Psoriasis, the Internet May Offer Hope
Wrinkle Fillers Need Better Label Warnings: FDA Panel
DENTAL, ORAL
Laser Technology Spots Cavities Before They Start
Gum Disease Might Boost Cancer Risk
Gum Disease May Reactivate AIDS Virus
DIABETES
Laughter May Lower Heart Attack Risk in Diabetics
Treatment for Type 2 Diabetes Updated
Doctors Urged to Screen Diabetics for Sleep Apnea
DIET, NUTRITION
An Apple a Day May Help Keep Heart Disease Away
Regular Yoga May Improve Eating Habits
Eating Less May Slow Aging Process
DISABILITIES
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Smog Tougher on the Obese
Where You Live May Affect Your Cancer Diagnosis
Gas Cooking Might Up Your Cancer Risk
EYE CARE, VISION
Half of U.S. Adults Lack 20/20 Vision
Kids Think Glasses Make Others Look Smart, Honest
Gene-Transfer Proves Safe for Vision Problem
FITNESS
Simple Steps Get Walkers Moving
Tai Chi: An Ideal Exercise for Many People with Diabetes
The Juice From Beetroots May Boost Stamina
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
Peppermint Oil, Fiber Can Fight Irritable Bowel
Olive Oil May Protect Against Bowel Disease
GENERAL HEALTH
Multivitamins Might Prolong Life
Eating More Soy May Be Good For Your Lung Function
Natural Oils Help Lower Body Fat For Some
HEAD & NECK
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Fructose Boosts Blood Pressure, Studies Find
Estrogen May Help Men's Hearts
Man's Best Friend Helps Mend Broken Hearts
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
The HPV Vaccine: Preventative Medicine or Human Sacrifice?
Dry Weather Boosts Odds of Flu Outbreaks
Swine Flu Loves a Crowd
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Babies Who Eat Fish Lower Eczema Risk
Meaningful Conversations Boost Kids' Language Skills
Health Tip: Back Pain in Children
MEN'S HEALTH
Physical Activity May Prolong Survival After Colon Cancer
Eating Fast Until Full Triples Overweight Risk
Could Chinese Herb Be a Natural Viagra?
MENTAL HEALTH
Using the Mind to Heal the Heart
Brain Scans Show How Humans 'Hear' Emotion
Teen Internet Addicts More Likely to Self-Harm: Study
PAIN
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Music of Mozart Soothes the Preemie Baby
Acupuncture May Relieve Acid Indigestation In Pregnancy
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
SENIORS
Friends, Not Grandkids, Key to Happy Retirement
Video Gaming Just Might Fight Aging
Save Your Aging Brain, Try Surfing The Web
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
Moderate Aerobics May Ease Insomnia Symptoms
Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Active Young Women Need Calcium, Vitamin D
Varicose Veins May Mask Larger Problem
Pre-Pregnancy Weight Linked to Babies' Heart Problems
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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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