Glucosamine and Chondroitin: Real or Placebo Effect?

Dave_white_suit_TMSince many clients, readers and friends have shared mixed experiences with the effects of glucosamine and chondroitin on their joints, I wanted to spotlight some recent related research.   Not surprisingly, millions of Americans take glucosamine, often with chondroitin sulfate, for the aches and pains of osteoarthritis. Over the years, research has yielded inconsistent findings, but I am happy to share more recent studies, which provide new insights to consider.


Finest Natural - Glucosamine Chondroitin Double Strength Capsules - 120 ea
Finest Natural – Glucosamine Chondroitin Double Strength Capsules – 120 ea. is tested and true.

Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are produced in the human body and are involved in the production and maintenance of the cartilage that cushions joints. The supplement glucosamine is manufactured from shellfish; chondroitin, usually from cow bone. It’s claimed that they cure or alleviate arthritis pain, help build cartilage and cushion the joints, and prevent deterioration of cartilage.

What the studies show:

In 2006 the government-sponsored Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Inter­­vention Trial (GAIT) reported that neither glucosamine hydrochloride nor chondroitin sulfate, alone or together, reduced pain and other symptoms significantly better than a placebo. (The prescription pain reliever Celebrex, also tested, fared only slightly better.)

But what about the main claim made for these supplements—that they slow or prevent the deterioration of joint-cushioning cartilage that is the hallmark of arthritis? In 2008 results of the second part of the study answered this question. The first GAIT study lasted six months and included 1,600 people with osteoarthritis of the knee, the joint that’s most likely to cause pain and loss of mobility. In the follow-up study, 357 of these subjects continued treatment (glucosamine, chondroitin, both supplements together, Celebrex, or placebo) for an additional 18 months and then had X-ray exams to measure cartilage loss.

The exams found insignificant differences in cartilage loss between the groups. Interestingly, glucosamine and chondroitin did worse when taken together than alone, but nothing worked much better than the placebo.

Also in 2008, a Dutch study of 222 people with arthritis of the hip found that another form of glucosamine (sulfate) did not reduce pain or stiffness better than a placebo, and X-rays revealed no differences.

More discouraging news about glucosamine came in July from a well-designed study from Norway. It included people with low back pain and arthritis of the lower spine, half of whom took glucosamine sulfate (1,500 milligrams a day), the other half a placebo. After six months, both groups reported similar levels of disability, pain, and overall quality of life. That is, glucosamine worked no better than a placebo.

Bottom line

Americans spend billions of dollars every year on unproven arthritis remedies including glucosamine. There is no cure, but everything (including a placebo) seems to work at least for some people for a while. The placebo in the GAIT study helped relieve symptoms in a whopping 60% of subjects, about the same as the supplements. Pain relievers help many arthritis sufferers but don’t affect the underlying loss of cartilage. Discuss the options with your doctor. You may want to forget about glucosamine and chondroitin—unless you are willing to pay $20 or more a month for what is probably a placebo effect. If you already take these supplements and think they help, continue with them, but preferably with a product meets quality standards as provided in our blog on glucosamine and chondroitin.  To evaluate whether they are helping you, consider stopping for a while to see if there’s a difference.

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*reference: Consumer Reports Health, 2012.





About Dave Barnas, M.S., CES, NASM-CPT

Dave is the true health guy. He is the founder and owner of True Health Unlimited, LLC, a personal health and fitness company in Tolland, CT & Wellness Writers, a subscription wellness newsletter service that incorporates live & virtual wellness workshops for companies across New England. Dave earned both a Bachelor's (1998) and Master's Degree (2000) in Nutritional Science from the University of Connecticut, and also holds certifications as a National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer, National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist, Aerobics and Fitness Association of America Group Instructor, and Nutrition Specialist. He's also the lead author for four published works. Dave has over 20 years of combined experience in nutrition counseling, dietary supplement advising, personal training, corrective exercise training, health coaching and public speaking. In addition, he's spent over 25 years studying spirituality, meditation, and personal growth strategies. Dave's clients are all ages: youth, college championship level athletes, folks in their retired years, and everywhere in between. He's worked with three of the nation's leading physicians as a dietary supplement advisor and been a guest lecturer at Harvard University, Yale University, UConn, St. Joseph College and various church groups, health clubs, and high schools. In 2013, he was invited to Whole Foods Market to share his Real Food Therapy Guide. And in 2015, Dave's funny "Snowga" (yoga in the snow) video caught the attention of The National Weather Channel, who aired it to shake off cabin fever and bring laughter. In 2016, Dave & Hollie (his wife) founded Wellness Writers and deliver evidence-based Wellness E-newsletters to spread a message of health and happiness to various businesses throughout the US. Dave currently serves as a personal trainer in Tolland as well as a wellness coach and writer for several businesses, gyms and wellness facilities throughout the US.

2 replies on “Glucosamine and Chondroitin: Real or Placebo Effect?”

Thanks Lynn. Happy to hear you enjoyed the post and I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. The dietary supplement industry is so vast and lucrative, which makes it tough to determine what is a safe and quality product these days, especially with all the marketing. Having studied the dietary supplement industry for some time, one consideration I share with friends and clients who are thinking about a dietary supplement or who are taking them already is to be sure that the product is either USP verified or NSF certified. These two respective denotations validate the quality of a dietary supplement product on the market and allow a consumer to know they are purchasing a quality product. If you would like me to send you the website links that show the products that are USP verified and NSF certified, please send me an e-mail me at

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