Osteoarthritis affects more men (36%) and women (55%) over the age of 65 than any other chronic health condition. One noted researcher states that you can find signs of osteoarthritis in everyone over the age of 50.
This painful condition is caused by gradual degradation of the shock-absorbing cartilage matrix which surrounds each joint in the body. The areas most commonly affected by osteoarthritis are the load-bearing or frequently exercised joints such as the knees, hips, shoulders, neck, elbows, wrists and fingers.
As the cartilage maintenance and repair system breaks down, the joint loses its lubrication and shock-absorbing capacity leaving its victim with pain levels that range from regular 'morning stiffness' at its earliest stage, to the excruciating pain of moving unlubricated and heavily eroded joints that those in advanced stages of this disease must endure each day.
The estimated cost of treating arthritis in America today is $12 billion each year.
As the 'greying' of the American population continues, coupled with the prospect of the baby-boomer generation approaching retirement age in the coming decade, the increased burden on the already troubled Medicare/Medicaid system that these statistics represent will be colossal.
Developing or discovering a safe and effective treatment for alleviating the pain and suffering of arthritis has become a task of primary social and economic importance.
It is fair to say that the most effective pharmaceutical drugs that have been developed to date are those designed to combat acute health conditions. It is also fair to say that most drugs developed to manage chronic health conditions have very poor long-term safety records.
All major arthritis drugs commonly prescribed today, including cortisone, aspirin and the increasingly popular "disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs" (DMARDS) are 'moderately to highly toxic medications'.
Most people are able to tolerate these drugs for a few years at the most - and at relatively moderate levels only, before their inherent toxicity begins to approach unsafe levels in the patient.
Examples of these medications and their commonly reported side effects are:
Sulfasalazine (Azulfidine) Liver inflammation, rash, nausea, dizziness, discolored urine, sweats.
Penicillamine Rashes, kidney damage, low blood counts, taste disturbances.
Cortisone-type drugs Weight gain, bone thinning, bruising, fluid retention, cataracts, vulnerability to infection.
Methotrexate Liver damage, low blood counts, nausea
Azathioprine, Cyclophosphamide, Chlorambucil Cancer, low blood counts, kidney damage
Cyclosporine Kidney damage, high blood pressure
Over-the-counter "non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs" (NSAIDS) used by many arthritis sufferers, such as Aspirin, (acetylsalicylic acid), Aleve (naproxen), Orudis KT (ketoprofen) Advil and Motrin (both ibuprofen) are just as dangerous, as they can generate stomach ulcerations which in turn can cause life-threatening gastrointestinal bleeding.
The dangers in this cannot be overstated. These drugs are so hazardous in long-term use that they send as many people to the hospital each year as car accidents (70,000+).
In 1995, over-the-counter Aleve (naproxen) accounted for more adverse reactions reported to the FDA than any other prescription or non-prescription drug.
Anti-inflammatory drugs work by blocking the inflammation that is an integral part of the body's natural response to tissue injury. This inflammation is triggered by localized production of chemical messengers known as 'prostaglandins'.
Anti-inflammatory drugs block the formation and release of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2).
Unfortunately, prostaglandins also perform other vital tasks in the body, among which is to maintain the integrity of the protective lining of the stomach and duodenum.
In order to prevent damage to the stomach wall, the cells in this region maintain a protective layer of mucus and bicarbonate of soda, which neutralizes stomach acid. Anti-inflammatory drugs block the chemical message that warns these cells to secrete their protective layer.
Quoting Thomas J. Moore, author of 'Prescription for Disaster', "Even prescribing physicians often underestimate how rapidly and how severely anti-inflammatory drugs damage the gastro-intestinal tract. For example, researchers used an endoscope to examine the stomachs of eighty-two arthritis patients taking aspirin for three months or more. 75 percent had reddened damaged areas, 40 percent had gastric erosions and 20 percent had outright bleeding ulcers.
These results were compared to untreated controls of similar age. Among those who did not take aspirin, none had ulcers and only 5 percent had reddened areas of the stomach lining.
Most newer NSAIDS are just as dangerous as aspirin- and by some measures, more toxic. After six months of treatment, medically significant stomach or intestinal damage was seen in 61 percent of patients taking Orudis, in 37 percent taking ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and 29 percent of those on Voltaren.
These adverse effects may appear within weeks. After just one month of treatment, ulcers were found in 10 percent of people taking Feldene and 9 percent of those taking naproxen (Aleve).
A study of arthritis patients showed that over a twelve-month period, 24 percent of arthritis patients sought medical attention for stomach pains or related problems.
One researcher estimates that the cost of counteracting the adverse effects of anti-inflammatory drugs accounts for fully one-third of the $12 billion annual cost of treating arthritis here in the USA.
One little mentioned fact is that the use of NSAIDs in the treatment of osteoarthritis has been clinically shown to aggravate the disease and accelerate joint destruction.
Many safe and effective therapeutic drugs are in the arsenal of the prescribing European physician. Some are less hazardous pharmaceutical compounds that are still slogging through the archaic 10-year, $100 million FDA approval process, despite years of proven safety overseas.
Euro-pharmaceutical companies often decide that this cost, particularly for compounds designed to treat less common health problems, just isn't worth the potential return, so they elect to forego the US market as a result.
Others are natural compounds which have been put to the same rigorous, double-blind, placebo-controlled, double cross-over clinical studies that all US drugs must undergo to prove their safety and efficacy, yet find no champion to shout their story to the world as there is no prospect for gaining the market protection provided by patent.
Glucosamine sulfate is one of those natural compounds that has proven to be far superior to their pharmaceutical counterparts.Â It has been widely used for the management of arthritis in Europe for a number of years, yet is just now beginning to surface here in the US as a safe and credible alternative to the dangerous NSAIDs and DMARDs.
People are being misled and misinformed, however, by companies offering formulations that contain other forms of glucosamine such as NADG (N-acetyl D-glucosamine) and glucosamine HCl (glucosamine hydrochloride). Some offer combination products which contain two or three of the available forms, or combine any of the above along with another compound known as chondroitin sulfate.
Other companies market glucosamine-containing products such as sea cucumber and green-lipped mussel extracts, or extracts of cartilage from beef, chicken, or shark.
Most will claim that results obtained in these European studies could also be expected by people who use these cheaper glucosamine compounds, or combination concoctions. There is no shred of scientific evidence, however, to support their claims.
Only glucosamine sulfate has detailed absorption studies and detailed clinical studies. Human studies on glucosamine sulfate indicate that 98% is available via intestinal absorption. Oral absorption of chondroitin sulfate on the other hand, is estimated at 8% at best, 0% at worst.
An important point to take into consideration when evaluating any product claim is that glucosamine sulfate is the only form which incorporates the sulfur molecule.
Sulfur is considered an essential nutrient for the building and maintenance of joint tissue, where it helps to stabilize the matrix of connective tissue that forms cartilage, tendons and ligaments.
Studies dating back over 60 years have documented that those suffering from osteoarthritis were deficient in sulfur, and that supplementation of sulfur provided significant benefits to those patients.
Some people confuse allergic reactions to sulfa-drugs or sulfite-containing food additives with an allergy to sulfur itself. If this were the case, many protein sources such as eggs and meats which contain the essential sulfur-bearing amino acids cysteine and methionine would provoke an allergic response too. An allergic reaction to sulfur is virtually impossible, as sulfur is an essential mineral.
Glucosamine sulfate is very well tolerated and no allergic reactions have been reported.
There are numerous double-blind studies which have shown that glucosamine sulfate is far more effective for the treatment of osteoarthritis than NSAIDs.
The relief of pain and inflammation has been well documented, despite the fact that glucosamine sulfate has very little, if any, anti-inflammatory effect and no direct analgesic or pain-relieving effect.
NSAIDS only offer relief from the symptoms, but as previously stated, have been shown to aggravate and even accelerate the disease itself. Glucosamine sulfate not only relieves the symptoms, it actually addresses the root problem of osteoarthritis by providing building blocks to repair the damaged cartilage.
While glucosamine does not exert its pain-relieving effect as quickly as an NSAID, the results over time (4 weeks+) have been shown to be far superior, and completely free from the discomfort or danger of adverse side effects.
One study compared two groups of osteoarthritis sufferers; one group taking ibuprofen and one given oral glucosamine sulfate. The researchers recorded 44% of the glucosamine group as 'doing well', compared with just 15% in the ibuprofen group.
An open trial study conducted in Portugal evaluated the response of 1500 osteoarthritis sufferers to glucosamine sulfate. The patients were given 500 mg three times a day for a mean period of 50 days. Throughout this trial, tests were given which gauged the symptoms of pain at rest, on standing, on exercise and on limited active and passive movement. At the conclusion of the trial, it was noted that the average scores for each of the tests given steadily improved throughout the duration of the trial.
The objective efficacy of this protocol was rated by the research physicians as being 'good' for 59% of the participants, and 'sufficient' for 36% of the remainder; a total of 95% responding favorably to glucosamine sulfate supplementation. In conclusion, both the research and patient groups rated glucosamine sulfate as significantly better than other treatments, including NSAIDs, vitamin therapy and cartilage extracts.
One further important point to consider is that the improvements received from glucosamine sulfate therapy lasted 6-12 weeks beyond the end of treatment, a sure indication that these improvements were the result of repaired cartilage material.