Dr. Mark Kestner (crop)


Which pill can replicate the benefits of regular exercise?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a definitively positive answer to that question? Interestingly, a new study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine makes the suggestion that a common supplement may prevent deaths associated with coronary vascular disease better than regular exercise.

Before I continue it is important to point out that this is just a single study and more research will be needed to confirm and clarify the apparent benefits of taking the supplement. It is also important to point out that regular exercise has many more benefits other than its effect on your cardiovascular system, so regular exercise is still recommended.

This relatively inexpensive supplement has been around for a while. It gained fame a few years ago for its apparent role in reducing the pain of osteoarthritis. Now, it has been found to be related to an apparent reduction in death from heart disease as well as from other causes.

Researchers found that the regular users of the supplement had greater than 50% less risk of death from cardiovascular disease and 27% less mortality overall during the study period of 10 years. The study combined data from 16,686 participants in National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999 to 2010.

What is this common supplement? It is glucosamine chondroitin (GC). You may recall this supplement making news a few years ago for its purported role in relieving the pain of osteoarthritis. This role was found to be controversial in that research was inconclusive about whether it was effective or not. 

I read a lot of research and I talk to my patients and others about their own experiences. The research was mixed in whether GC was effective in reducing osteoarthritis pain. Now it is important to keep in mind that some medical research is largely paid for by pharmaceutical companies that sell expensive medications for arthritis pain, so they may possibly have some interest in disproving claims that inexpensive over-the-counter nutritional supplement can be effective.

When I talk to real people about their use of glucosamine chondroitin, the results are mixed as well. It seems that some people find the supplement to be very helpful and report substantially reduced arthritis pain in joints such as knees and thumbs, while others report it did not help as much.

It is also important to point out that the quality, potency and purity of nutritional supplements varies widely. Some nutritional supplements including GC are simply not what is claimed on the label. So, a person may experience poor results with one product and good results with a different brand.

In our clinic, we have found that our exclusive medical acupuncture has produced significantly better results for osteoarthritis pain in joints such as knees, shoulder, spine and thumbs than any nutritional supplement including GC and most medications. The fact that there are no drug side effects from the acupuncture is an additional bonus.

It would be natural to ask if the reduced deaths reported in the study are solely related to the use of glucosamine chondroitin.  For example, it may very well be that the people that regularly take GC are also people that are more attentive to their health in other ways.

It would make sense that the people that have already been taking the GC supplements may also be people that take other steps to stay healthy, such as paying attention to their diet, regularly being active, avoiding being overweight and other positive actions.

The study is an observational one and does not take these other possible factors into account.

There may be additional studies in the works to learn more about the effects of glucosamine chondroitin. With indications that seem to be as significant as what is revealed in this study it would be likely that more studies will follow.

In our own clinical experience, for drug-free treatment for pain from osteoarthritis, our medical acupuncture has been shown to be more effective than glucosamine chondroitin. Patients often report significant relief after the first treatment and the results are typically lasting.

Dr. Mark Kestner is a licensed chiropractic physician in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St. Contact him at mkestner@DrKestner.com.

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