The hallmark symptoms of degenerative joint disease, or osteoarthritis, are pain, swelling and stiffness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that nearly 1 in 2 people are at risk of developing osteoarthritis by the age of 85.
Because there is no known cure for osteoarthritis, medications such as acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to provide symptom relief. Long-term use of these medications can be problematic, so natural alternatives are sought out by clinicians and patients alike.
Chondroitin has surfaced as a key supplement for osteoarthritis; however, study results have been inconsistent. According to a 2015 exhaustive systematic review by The Cochrane Collaboration, chondroitin does, in fact, outperform a placebo in improving osteoarthritis pain. In controlled studies, chondroitin had lower incidence of adverse events.
To gather data for this analysis, the researchers searched seven databases and all studies had to be randomized or quasi-randomized clinical trials lasting longer than 2 weeks. All of the studies featured adults with diagnosed osteoarthritis. They found 43 randomized controlled trials that featured a total of nearly 5000 participants who were treated with chondroitin and more than 4000 participants who were given a placebo or a control such as NSAIDs.
Consistently, the participants treated with chondroitin had statistically significantly less pain in the studies that lasted less than 6 months compared with the placebo. In studies lasting longer than 6 months, pain scores were lower but not as significant as in the short-term studies. Pain scores were also statistically significant in studies that combined chondroitin with glucosamine.
Based on the results from this review, chondroitin can safely relieve osteoarthritis pain and should be considered a first-line treatment choice.