Results published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism indicate that daily supplements of chondroitin sulfate were associated with an 8.7 decrease on a well-established scale of pain.
In addition, researchers from the University Hospitals of Geneva in Switzerland report that the supplements were associated with improvements in hand function.
"Our findings show chondroitin sulfate is a safe and effective treatment for patients with hand OA," said Cem Gabay, MD, lead researcher of the study.
"Alternative therapies, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), provide similar pain reducing effects, but with considerably more long-term toxicities."
Chondroitin sulphate is extracted from animal cartilage, such as sharks. In dietary supplements the compound is often formulated in combination with glucosamine. According to the Nutrition Business Journal, US sales for these combined supplements were $810 million (€563 million) in 2005.
Previous studies, including the $14m Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT), sponsored by the National Institute of Health, have reported positive results, while other have reported null results, leaving the subject clouded in uncertainty.
Recent results from GAIT II did not help to clarify the subject, with results showing that supplements of chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine, alone or in combination, may not positively affect joint health.
The new study used the Chondrosulf branded agent, which is licensed as a drug in Europe. The researchers note that in the US chondroitin sulfate is sold as a dietary supplement and often paired with glucosamine.
FACTS included 162 patients with osteoarthritis of the hand. They were randomly assigned to receive either 800 mg per day of chondroitin sulfate or placebo for 6 months.
At the end of the study, the researchers report that the chondroitin sulfate group had significant decrease in global hand pain compared with the placebo group.
In addition, hand function also improved significantly, as did morning stiffness.
“Whether this statistical significant difference has a clinical impact remains to be shown,” wrote the researchers.
“However, the presence of a positive effect on the evolution of [hand function] at 6 months is indicative of a positive clinical effect of CS in this study population.”
According to the Global Burden of Disease 2000 report from the World Health Organization (WHO), about 10% of the world population, 60 years and older, have symptomatic osteoarthritis. Prior studies have found that 20% to 30% of adults have OA of the hand, with the prevalence rising to more than 50% after 60 years of age.
Source: Arthritis & Rheumatism
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1002/art.30574
“Symptomatic Effect of Chondroitin Sulfate 4&6 in Hand Osteoarthritis: The Finger osteoArthritis Chondroitin Treatment Study (FACTS): A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Clinical Trial”
Authors: C. Gabay, C. Medinger-Sadowski, D. Gascon, F. Kolo, A. Finckh