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Cartilage supplement ‘as good as NSAIDs’ for knee pain

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High grade chondroitin sulfate is as good as widely-used anti-inflammatory drugs for treating painful knee arthritis, according to researchers who suggest it could be a safer long-term treatment.

The degenerative joint condition, which affects at least eight million people in the UK, is generally treated with standard painkillers – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and paracetamol.

However, those behind a new study, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, suggest taking supplements that include pharmaceutical grade chondroitin sulfate could be a better option.

Their findings are based on a clinical trial involving more than 600 patients with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis from five European countries.

Each participant was randomly assigned one of three treatments – chondroitin sulfate, the common anti-inflammatory celecoxib or a placebo – and then monitored for six months.

The research team from Belgium, Poland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic found pain and joint function improved with all three treatments within 30 days.

However, at three and six months improvements were significantly greater among those taking chondroitin sulphate and celecoxib.

While joint function improved more quickly on the anti-inflammatory drug, the study found there was no overall difference in the effectiveness of the two treatments – which were both highly rated by patients.

Give that taking NSAIDs and paracetamol long-term has been linked to serious side effects, the researchers suggest that chondroitin sulphate looks like a valid and safe alternative.

Chondroitin is a component of human connective tissue found in cartilage and bone. Chondroitin sulfate – generally manufactured from animal cartilage – is available in over-the-counter tablets.

However, the researchers said the level of active ingredient in these supplements could vary considerably, so they used tablets containing 800mg of pharmaceutical grade chondroitin sulphate.

They said their study provided “compelling” evidence that taking this formulation of chondroitin sulphate is beneficial and “should be considered a first-line treatment in the medical management of knee osteoarthritis”.

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