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Alternate Treatment May Ease Knee Pain

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Thomas Strauss, chief executive of Summa Health System in Akron, Ohio, tells this story of how he regained his ability to run five miles, two to three mornings a week:

Six years ago, Strauss had knee surgery to repair a torn tendon. His doctor found significant arthritis in the knee and recommended that Strauss quit years of regular running. For the six months that followed, Strauss tried other forms of exercise. But he missed the relaxation and intensity of exercise that came with running.

Having heard about supplements for treating osteoarthritis in the knee, he checked with his doctor and began taking both of these over-the-counter supplements. He resumed running shortly later, and recently completed 6.2 miles as part of a relay team in the Road Runner Akron Marathon.

What do we know about glucosamine and chondroitin?

Studies have focused more on glucosamine, and in particular, its effect on osteoarthritis in the knee. The September issue of Health After 50, the Johns Hopkins medical letter, reported on a three-year trial that found glucosamine "significantly reduced joint space narrowing" and improved knee function while easing pain. The letter said that oral glucosamine may slow joint deterioration and relieve mild to moderate symptoms after three to six months. However, this has not been proven.

The federal government's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is funding a study on the effectiveness of glucosamine and chondroitin in treating osteoarthritis in the knees. The center notes at its Web site that "previous studies in the medical literature have yielded conflicting results."

Glucosamine occurs naturally in the body and is found in various places, including bones, ligaments and tendons. The supplements typically are made from a protein found in the shells of shrimp, crab and other shellfish.

Glucosamine is often sold with chondroitin, which is a component of connective tissue. The Johns Hopkins letter said it is unclear whether chondroitin gives an added benefit.

Now some caveats: If you're allergic to shellfish, don't take glucosamine. Also, people with diabetes or gastrointestinal problems should be especially careful. Side effects may include increased blood sugar, nausea, diarrhea, headaches and drowsiness. Further, chondroitin could act as a blood thinner and could interact badly with some medications.

The old warning applies: Dietary supplements may be sold over the counter, but they aren't necessarily harmless. Check with your doctor.


(Diane Evans is a staff writer at the Akron Beacon Journal. Though she has researched the information in this column, she has no training in medicine or science. Readers should consult carefully with their physicians before relying on anything in the column. If you have questions or suggestions for Evans, contact her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640, or by e-mail at


(c) 2003, Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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