ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Overweight Moms More Likely to Have Asthmatic Kids
Know Your Asthma Triggers
Molecule in Skin May Link Eczema and Asthma
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Cranberries May Help Prevent Urinary Tract Infections
No Verdict Yet on Grape Seed Extract vs. Breast Cancer
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
ANIMAL CARE
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
Safe Toys for Dogs
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
BONES & JOINTS
Fall Sports Peak Time for Lower Leg Damage
More Faces Being Spared in Motor Vehicle Accidents
Returning to the Road Tricky After Injury
CANCER
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
Seaweed May Help Treat Lymphoma
Vitamin D Good for Breast Cancer Patients
CAREGIVING
Diabetes Epidemic Now Poses Challenges for Nursing Homes
Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome
Caregiving May Lengthen Life
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Health Tip: Are You Anemic?
Anemia Rates Down for U.S. Women and Children
Review Confirms Links Between Diet, Heart Health
COSMETIC
New Genetic Links to Baldness Discovered
With Psoriasis, the Internet May Offer Hope
Mouse Study Finds Molecule That Tells Hair to Grow
DENTAL, ORAL
Gum Disease Might Boost Cancer Risk
Periodontal Disease Impacts Whole Health
Rheumatoid Arthritis May Harm Gums
DIABETES
Older Diabetics With Depression Face Higher Death Rate
Boosting Vitamin D Can Do a Heart Good
Saliva Test Could Monitor Type 2 Diabetes
DIET, NUTRITION
To Feel Better, Low-Fat Diet May Be Best
Mediterranean Diet Plus Exercise Lowers Alzheimer's Risk
'Soda Tax' Wins Health Experts' Support
DISABILITIES
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Smog Standards Need Tightening, Activists Say
Is It Safe to Go in the Gulf Coast's Water?
Hairspray Exposure Ups Risk for Birth Defect in Sons
EYE CARE, VISION
Florida Vision Test Law: Fewer Traffic Deaths Among Elderly
Eye Care Checkups Tied to Insurance Status
Kids Think Glasses Make Others Look Smart, Honest
FITNESS
Consciousness Helps the Mind and Body Work Together
Community Exercise Programs Boost Seniors' Strength
Want to Stop Cancer? You Can, Experts Say
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
New Guidelines Issued for Management of IBS
GENERAL HEALTH
Week of Historic Senate Hearings on Integrative Medicine May Open New Doors
Meat Additives May Be Dangerous for Kidney Patients
Simple Holistic Approach to Fight the Common Cold
HEAD & NECK
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
Subway Defibrillators Save Lives
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
After a Stroke, Light Exercise Gets Hands, Arms Working Again
Quitting Smoking Doubles Survival in Early Stage Lung Cancer
Lack of Vitamin D Linked to High Blood Pressure
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Swine Flu Loves a Crowd
Swine Flu Now Reported in All 50 States
Swine Flu Closes Three Schools in NYC
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Scary Toxins Make Halloween Face Paints Questionable
Plastics Chemical Tied to Aggression in Young Girls
Daily Exercise at School Yields Rewards
MEN'S HEALTH
Low Vitamin D Levels May Boost Men's Heart Attack Risk
Exercise May Prevent Prostate Cancer: Study Shows
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
MENTAL HEALTH
Meditation May Boost College Students' Learning
Keeping a Healthy Holiday Balance
Daily dose of beet juice promotes brain health in older adults
PAIN
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Placebo Acupuncture Tied to Higher IVF Pregnancies
Breast-Feeding Benefits Moms and Babies
Exercise Boosts Bone Density in Breast-Feeding Moms
SENIORS
Friends, Not Grandkids, Key to Happy Retirement
Keeping Mentally Active Seems To Keep The Brain Active
For a Healthier Retirement, Work a Little
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Daylight Savings: Not a Bright Time for All
Exercising Throat Muscles May Relieve Sleep Apnea
Lose Weight, Sleep Apnea May Improve
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Frankincense Provides Relief for Osteoarthritis
Whole Grains, Bran May Fight Hypertension in Men
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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