As a 50-something now, with 40-odd years of running-based sports behind me, I have been wrestling for some years now with the ‘will I’ or ‘won’t I’ of Glucosamine.
It certainly seems to be a product of my generation, and I myself have taken the stuff for years. Many of my friends and acquaintances have as well.
As a result of those mis-spent years running on roads, I have also had two arthroscopies on each knee, and am probably due another pair soon. My GP, with a background in sports medicine (and several years being doctor for an AFL club), strongly recommended Glucosamine. The surgeons doing the arthroscopy also recommended it, along with a little ingredient called Chrondroitin.
After years of taking the stuff however, I couldn’t honestly say I could feel any difference. Of course, this is just anecdotal, and no one person can ever know whether or not it’s making any difference, can they? For all you know, you could be no worse off without it.
This is why we rely on doctors, who in turn rely on clinical testing.
After asking the question of my GP, the answers were less than enthusiastic. He takes them as a prophylactic – the stuff does no harm, and he can afford it, was his position. He also suggested consulting the Cochrane Review (http://www2.cochrane.org/reviews/). This is a terrific, non-profit organisation which aims to summarise in plain language the state of play across a whole range of medicine and alternative medicine.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, here’s their summary of the studies:
Best estimate of what happens after about 6 months
Pain: The high quality studies showed that pain improved about the same whether people took glucosamine or fake pills. If all of the studies are examined (including low quality and old studies), then glucosamine improved pain more than fake pills.
People who took fake pills had a pain score of 7 points on a 0 to 100 scale. Pain may improve by 10 more points with glucosamine than with fake pills.
Studies testing only the Rotta brand of glucosamine (including low quality and older studies) showed that glucosamine improved pain more than fake pills. People who took fake pills had a pain score of 6 points on a 0 to 20 scale. People who took the Rotta brand of glucosamine rated their pain 3 points lower than people who did not take glucosamine.
Function: The high quality studies show that glucosamine improved function more than fake pills when measured by one type of scale, but improved the same amount as fake pills when measured by another scale.
Studies testing only the Rotta brand of glucosamine (including low quality and older studies) showed that glucosamine improved function more than fake pills. People who took fake pills had a function score of 22 points on a 0 to 68 scale. People who took the Rotta brand of glucosamine had their ability to function improve by 2 points compared to people who did not take glucosamine.
There was no difference in the number of people who had side effects. Side effects mainly included stomach upset and other joint pain.
So, in my book there’s not much to hang your hat on. Basically, the high quality studies show no improvement over placebo, while the lower quality ones show a 2 point improvement in pain on a scale of 68! Talk about marginal effects. That’s certainly not enough for me to be sucking these things down, even if they are harmless.
Smarties would be cheaper, tastier, and about as effective.