Clinical Health Updates

Chondroitin of little benefit in pain of advanced OA

Clinical Question:
Is treatment with chondroitin more effective than placebo for controlling the pain of osteoarthritis?

Bottom Line:
Most of the available research on this topic is of low quality, and the high-quality research that exists does not point to a benefit of chondroitin. Studies of glucosamine are mixed in their demonstration of benefit. Given its low cost and lack of side effects, glucosamine alone or in combination with chondroitin is a reasonable option for patients who should give it a trial of several months to determine benefit.

Reichenbach S, Sterchi R, Scherer M, et al. Meta-analysis: Chondroitin for osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. Ann Intern Med 2007;146:580-590.

Study Design:
Meta-analysis (randomized controlled trials)

Previous meta-analyses described moderate to large benefits of chondroitin in patients with osteoarthritis. However, recent large-scale trials did not find evidence of an effect. The authors determined the effects of chondroitin on pain in patients with osteoarthritis. They searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (1970 to 2006), MEDLINE (1966 to 2006), EMBASE (1980 to 2006), CINAHL (1970 to 2006), and conference proceedings; checked reference lists; and contacted authors. The last update of searches was performed on 30 November 2006. Studies were included if they were randomized or quasi-randomized, controlled trials that compared chondroitin with placebo or with no treatment in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. There were no language restrictions. The authors extracted data in duplicate. Effect sizes were calculated from the differences in means of pain-related outcomes between treatment and control groups at the end of the trial, divided by the pooled SD. Trials were combined by using random-effects meta-analysis. 20 trials (3846 patients) contributed to the meta-analysis, which revealed a high degree of heterogeneity among the trials (I2 = 92%). Small trials, trials with unclear concealment of allocation, and trials that were not analyzed according to the intention-to-treat principle showed larger effects in favor of chondroitin than did the remaining trials. When the authors restricted the analysis to the 3 trials with large sample sizes and an intention-to-treat analysis, 40% of patients were included. This resulted in an effect size of -0.03 (95% CI, -0.13 to 0.07; I2 = 0%) and corresponded to a difference of 0.6 mm on a 10-cm visual analogue scale. A meta-analysis of 12 trials showed a pooled relative risk of 0.99 (CI, 0.76 to 1.31) for any adverse event.