Glucosamine Shows No Benefit for Back Pain Patients in Study

By Iona Craig

July 6 (Bloomberg) — Taking the nutritional supplement glucosamine provided no significant benefit to arthritis patients with chronic lower back pain, according to the first large, long-term study of its kind.

In the trial, conducted at Oslo University Hospital in Norway, 125 patients took 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine and 125 took placebo pills daily for six months. The researchers found no significant differences and no reduction in pain- related disability between the two groups during the study and after one year, according to the results, to be published tomorrow in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Lower back pain is the second-most common concern expressed by patients to their primary-care doctors, the study’s authors said. More than 25 percent of people with chronic lower back pain have tried glucosamine, a substance found naturally in shells and bones, seeking to gain relief, according to a 2009 report on complementary and alternative medicine by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

“The evidence suggests the best therapy is exercise, physical therapy, manipulation and cognitive therapy combined,” said Philip Wilkens, the lead researcher and a chiropractor at Oslo University Hospital, in an e-mail.

Previous studies relating to glucosamine and pain have had mixed results. A 1980 trial of 80 patients found glucosamine to be twice as effective as placebo over 30 days for osteoarthritis patients, without looking specifically at lower back pain. A 1999 study of 34 men with degenerative joint disease of the knee or lower back showed no effects on the condition over 16 weeks, though it did relieve some symptoms. A 2008 trial found the supplement failed to help patients with hip arthritis.

‘Not Discouraging’

The negative findings of the Oslo study were “disappointing but should not be discouraging” to researchers seeking an effective therapy, said Andrew L. Avins, a scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California. The trial provided “no incentive for clinicians to recommend glucosamine for patients with chronic lower back pain,” Avins wrote in an editorial published in JAMA.

Participants in the study were recruited between December 2006 and July 2008 in Oslo and Bergen, Norway. The 250 people included in the one-year trial had lower back pain for at least six months and degenerative lumbar osteoarthritis, were older than 25 and scored at least three out of 24 points on the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire.

The research, which was funded by the Norwegian Low Back Pain Association, Norwegian Chiropractic Association and Wilhelmsens Research Fund, used glucosamine and placebo purchased from Pharma Nord, a closely held Danish company.


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