My journey into the realm of natural medicine has been interesting to say the least. I am a traditionally trained physician in both internal medicine and neurology. I first dabbled in complementary medicine about ten years ago.
Several years ago, several members of the company began attending health shows throughout the country. I can still remember my first time in the exhibit hall. As I looked around at all of the exhibits promoting various alternative therapies, some of which were quite bizarre, I kept saying to myself, “What am I doing here? I’m a real doctor. Suppose one of my patients sees me.” With time, I became more comfortable with the entire matter.
My belief in complimentary medicine, however, became stronger and deeper as I began to speak to various individuals who had experienced remarkable recoveries with nutrients from conditions for which I was trained to believe there was no cure. Early on, I would hear person after person telling me about the incredible benefits of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. I had reviewed the literature at that point and was convinced of the efficacy of these nutrients. I recall being at one medical show and being terribly disappointed as I tried to convince orthopedists of the value of these nutrients. It seemed that no one was listening at the time.
Well, I think things have changed in the last few years. There have been a few excellent double-blinded studies indicating the efficacy of both glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate regarding osteoarthritis. I was extremely pleased to see in the most current issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine a meta-analysis reviewing the effects of oral glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate in the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee.
Over 500 articles were reviewed with fifteen of the best, most relevant studies utilized in the analysis. All the studies that were selected were randomized, double-blinded and placebo controlled. Amazingly, these studies spanned over twenty years dating back to 1980. In the meta-analysis, over 700 patients were treated with chondroitin and over 1000 patients with glucosamine. The results of the meta-analysis indicated that both glucosamine and chondroitin provided highly significant symptomatic relief concerning the effects of knee osteoarthritis.
Glucosamine seemed to have more efficacy, however, in improving joint function. The authors of this meta-analysis indicated that 1500 mg of glucosamine sulfate taken daily for at least three years could potentially slow down cartilage degeneration in the joints. The authors further indicated that additional long term studies were recommended to likewise confirm the benefits of chondroitin on joint structure in arthritis.
Although osteoarthritis is extremely common with tens of millions of people suffering from this condition in the United States, as a neurologist I do not treat this disorder. I was pleased, however, to see a recent paper published on the beneficial effects of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for symptomatic disc degeneration of the spine.
This is a condition that I see literally every day. Disc degeneration, which occurs in most people as they age, develops as the water content of the disc between the vertebrae starts to diminish. The disc is important as a cushion between the vertebrae. In a case study with intake of oral glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for two years, there was MRI evidence of improvement in the disc in a patient with symptomatic spinal disc degeneration. The authors of the paper indicated that long term glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate intake may counteract symptomatic spinal disc degeneration, particularly at an early age.
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