ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Traffic, Dust Linked to Asthma in Kids
Overweight Moms More Likely to Have Asthmatic Kids
Obesity May Raise Kids' Allergy Risk
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Massage Therapy Helps Those With Advanced Cancer
Ginkgo No Shield Against Alzheimer's
Yoga May Bring Calm to Breast Cancer Treatment
ANIMAL CARE
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
BONES & JOINTS
'Snowbirds' Beware the Climate Changes
Winter Is Tough on Feet
Tips to Ease an Aching Back
CANCER
Well Water Might Raise Bladder Cancer Risk
Smokeout '08: The Perfect Time to Quit
Hypnosis Cuts Hot Flashes for Breast Cancer Survivors
CAREGIVING
Tiniest Babies Carry Biggest Costs
Most Women Struggle With Rising Health Care Costs
Bariatric Surgery Centers Don't Deliver Better Outcomes
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
A Brisk Pace May Keep Stroke at Bay
Bad Marriages Harder on Women's Health
Walk 100 Steps a Minute for 'Moderate' Exercise
COSMETIC
Contact Lenses Boost Kids' Self-Image
What to Do If You Have Unsightly Veins
Study Evaluates Laser Therapies for Hair Removal
DENTAL, ORAL
Biological Product Shows Promise Against Gum Disease
Study Links Osteoporosis Drugs to Jaw Trouble
Gummy Bears Join Cavity Fight
DIABETES
Patients' Photos Help Boost Radiologists' Accuracy
Study Shows Turmeric May Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Vitamin K Slows Insulin Resistance in Older Men
DIET, NUTRITION
Eating Healthy : You Can Live Longer
Indian Spice May Thwart Liver Damage
The Best Diet? That Depends on You
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Household Insecticides May Be Linked to Autoimmune Diseases
Air Pollution May Cause Appendicitis: Study Reveals
Traffic Seems to Make Kids' Asthma Worse
EYE CARE, VISION
Too Much Sun, Too Few Antioxidants Spell Eye Trouble
Retinal Gene Is Linked to Childhood Blindness
Music Can Help Restore Stroke Patients' Sight
FITNESS
Bursts of Vigorous Activity Appear to Be a 'Stress-Buffer'
Simple Steps Get Walkers Moving
Avoiding a Holiday Season of Discontent
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Japanese Herbals May Ease Gastro Woes
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
Olive Oil May Protect Against Bowel Disease
GENERAL HEALTH
Pesticides and How to Affordably Eat Organic or Reduce Pesticide Consumption
Showerheads Harbor a Bounty of Germs
Vitamin D and Bone Health: Are You Getting Enough of This Important Vitamin?
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
Save Your Aging Brain, Try Surfing The Web
Airport Full Body Scanners Pose No Health Threat: Experts
HEARING
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Fructose Boosts Blood Pressure, Studies Find
Cherry-Enriched Diet Cut Heart Risks in Rats
Psychiatric Drugs Might Raise Cardiac Death Risk
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Swine Flu Now Reported in All 50 States
More Medicinal Uses for Pomegranate
Dry Weather Boosts Odds of Flu Outbreaks
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Quick Orthopedic Repair Can Save Young Shoulders
Too Many Infants Short on Vitamin D
Protect Your Kids From Swine Flu While at Camp
MEN'S HEALTH
Soy Linked to Low Sperm Count
Low Iron Levels Cut Cancer Risk in Men With PAD
Vigorous Exercise Cuts Stroke Risk for Men, Not Women
MENTAL HEALTH
Estrogen May Help Men's Hearts
Optimism May Boost Immune System
Musicians' Brains Tuned to Emotions in Sound
PAIN
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Calcium Supplements Cut Blood Lead Levels During Pregnancy
Heart Defects in Newborns Linked to Antidepressants
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
SENIORS
For a Healthier Retirement, Work a Little
Save Your Aging Brain, Try Surfing The Web
Exercise Benefits Even the Oldest Old
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
Better Sleep, Grades Seem to Go Up
Daylight Savings: Not a Bright Time for All
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Women Who Run May Benefit From Extra Folic Acid
Woman in America Are Delaying Motherhood, Study Says
Green Tea May Help Treat Uterine Fibroids
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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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