Ask an Expert: Glucosamine and chondroitin

Q: Can glucosamine and chondroitin prevent joint cartilage from wearing down?

Answer from Peter Bonafede, M.D., medical director of the Providence Arthritis Center at Providence Portland Medical Center:

They may, but no scientific data are yet available to prove these supplements, taken alone or in combination, can slow down or prevent cartilage damage. The National Institutes of Health is now studying glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to determine how they work and what benefits they might offer arthritis patients. The results of this research will likely be available within two years.

Some people with osteoarthritis report modest pain relief when taking glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate, but not all patients have similar results. There is no harm in trying one or both supplements to see if they may help with pain, provided that you select a reputable brand that contains no impurities. Your health provider can offer guidelines for selecting supplements and help you incorporate them into your exercise or medication regimen.

If you decide to try glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate for pain relief, be aware that it may take two to three months before you notice any effect. If the supplements do not help after such a trial, remember that it is possible to obtain similar pain relief from aspirin or ibuprofen.