Chondroitin sulfate (CS) and glucosamine are two nutraceuticals often used by patients with osteoarthritis (OA). Nutraceutical is a new word made by combining two other words: nutrition and pharmaceutical.
Nutraceuticals are supplements that don't have to meet any quality standards. They can be purchased by anyone over-the-counter. Safety and effectiveness of these products for OA has not been proven.
The authors of this report reviewed the results of five recent meta-analyses. All studies that were included looked at the safety and effectiveness of CS in treating OA. A meta-analysis is done by combining the results of several similar studies. The outcomes are clearer when the data for a number of patients is pooled.
In these five meta-analyses, patients taking CS were compared with patients receiving a placebo (sugar pill) or no treatment. All patients had knee OA. Pain, improved function, and safety were the main measures. One study looked for proof that CS can slow or stop the progress of OA.
Data analyzed from these studies seems to suggest that CS works better when it's combined with glucosamine. Patients who benefit the most have moderate to severe OA pain. CS combined with glucosamine may be an alternative to non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Overall, the evidence is medium. This means studies agree there's clinical evidence that the product works. But more research may show different findings. For now, the safety of CS is proven. Anyone taking either CS or glucosamine should keep taking it until proven otherwise.
Philip A. Band, PhD and David S. Hungerford, MD. Chondroitin Sulfate for Osteoarthritis: Interpreting Divergent Evidence. In The Journal of Musculoskeletal Medicine. October 2007. Vol. 24. No. 10. Pp. 422-428.'