According to Swiss researchers the dietary supplement chondroitin is no better than a placebo at easing the hip and knee pain of arthritis and they believe its use should be discouraged.
Chondroitin sulfate in combination with glucosamine has been touted as a treatment for the aches and pains associated with osteoarthritis, the painful degeneration of the cartilage in the knee and hip joints, and as such is widely sold in the United States.
In Europe Chondroitin sulfate is promoted by itself for arthritis relief and in Switzerland is featured on a list of insurance-approved treatments.
It is regarded as one of the building blocks of cartilage, but despite its popularity, studies have produced mixed results as to whether chondroitin does in fact relieve arthritis pain.
The researchers at the University of Berne in Switzerland, conducted a review of data from 20 trials that included more than 3,600 patients with osteoarthritis and found that chondroitin probably had no effect at relieving osteoarthritis.
Study author and epidemiologist Peter Juni, says there is no evidence which suggests that chondroitin helps decrease pain more than a placebo.
Juni says while there is no evidence to suggest that chondroitin is unsafe, the product does not work, and should not be recommended as part of a daily treatment regimen.
Critics such as the Natural Products Association have faulted the study because it only looked at chondroitin and it made no distinction between mild, moderate and severe arthritis and cite a large study sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
The overall findings of the 2006 NIH study did however find that glucosamine, chondroitin and a combination of the two did not work significantly better than placebo.
The researchers believe that a large, carefully controlled clinical trial might be the way forward.
It is estimated that more than 21 million people in the United States have osteoarthritis and experts expect those numbers to grow quickly as the population ages and obesity reaches epidemic proportions.
The study is published in the current issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.