How effective is glucosamine-chondroitin?
In previous issues of Life Extension magazine, we have discussed the studies indicating a significant benefit to arthritic patients who take glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate. 112-113 It is because of these successful earlier studies that this latest study published in the New England Journal of Medicine was conducted.
While glucosamine-chondroitin have documented efficacy, many arthritis sufferers need to take a broader approach to relieving inflammation, immobility, and chronic pain. Fish oil, for instance, has been shown to help reduce pro-inflammatory eicosanoids such as prostaglandin E2 and leukotriene B4, along with pro-inflammatory cytokines such as TNF-alpha and IL-1b. 114-116 These inflammatory factors play a major role in degenerative joint disease. Over the past 10 years, we have published findings showing benefits when combinations of fish oil, borage oil, glucosamine, and other nutrients are taken together. 117
Sulfur for the Joints
One of the flaws in the New England Journal of Medicine study may have been that the form of glucosamine used did not provide any sulfur.
Animal studies have shown that joints affected by osteoarthritis have lower sulfur content, 118 and that arthritic mice given a sulfur-containing nutrient (MSM) experience less joint degeneration. 119 In a double-blind trial in people with osteoarthritis, study participants who received MSM by itself experienced significant pain relief. 120
In a study published in 2004, the combination of glucosamine with MSM was found to more effective in improving the signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis than either agent alone. 62 After 12 weeks of treatment, the average pain score in the glucosamine-only group dropped from 1.74 to 0.65…a 63% reduction. In the MSM-only group, it fell from 1.53 to 0.74...a 52% reduction. However, in the group taking glucosamine and MSM, the average pain score dropped from 1.7 to 0.36…an astounding reduction of 79%! The researchers also found that the combination therapy had a faster effect on pain and inflammation than either glucosamine or MSM alone.
It is important to point out, however, that some studies have used glucosamine HCL to effectively relieve arthritis pain.
Media tries to bury saw palmetto
More than 20 published studies show that saw palmetto alleviates symptoms associated with benign prostate disease such as frequent urination, low urine stream, and a feeling of not completely emptying the bladder. 121-141
A recent study however, found saw palmetto to be ineffective in men with moderate-to-severe benign prostate hypertrophy. As a result of this one study, the media declared saw palmetto useless.
The doctors who conducted this negative saw palmetto study received financial compensation from Merck (which makes Proscar®), GlaxoSmithKline (which makes Avodart®), and TAP Pharmaceuticals (which makes Lupron®). Proscar and Avodart are drugs that directly compete against saw palmetto, whereas Lupron is used mostly by men who develop prostate cancer.
Some in the alternative medical community have cried “foul,” in as much as the doctors overseeing this negative saw palmetto study received financial compensation from the same pharmaceutical companies that stood to gain the most from discrediting non-prescription herbal therapies such as saw palmetto.
Flaws in saw palmetto study
One of the defects of the negative saw palmetto study is that it evaluated men who had more advanced prostate disease than did most of the participants in the favorable saw palmetto studies. In the numerous European studies that documented saw palmetto’s efficacy, most of the men evaluated were considered to have moderate prostate disease. The study used to attack saw palmetto, on the other hand, looked at men with moderate-to-severe prostate disease. Researchers long ago determined that men with moderate-to-severe benign prostate disease need aggressive therapy to achieve effective relief. This is why recent studies showing positive benefit to herbal prostate remedies have used saw palmetto combined with nettle root. 142-146 This fact raises questions as to why so much money was spent funding a study of men with significant prostate disease using only saw palmetto, when European doctors prescribe combination herbal therapies to treat benign prostate disease.
Another flaw of this study is that the group assigned the saw palmetto had more pronounced prostate disease than did the placebo group. For instance, the group receiving saw palmetto had a BPH Impact Score that was statistically significantly worse than the placebo group at baseline. Whether these baseline differences had an impact on the study’s outcome is unknown. By placing men with more severe prostate disease in the saw palmetto group, however, the study was biased against saw palmetto from the beginning.
The Overlooked Effects of Estrogen on the Prostate
Mainstream medicine remains fixated on the role of testosterone and dihydrotestosterone in promoting prostate gland overgrowth. Prostate disease, however, does not strike young men with high testosterone levels
The overlooked fact is that as men grow older, they produce less testosterone and a lot more estrogen. Prostate cells contain estrogen receptor sites, demonstrating that the gland can respond directly to the growth-promoting effects of estrogen. Recent data suggest that estrogens play a role in prostate disease. 147-149
Aging men, in particular those with the so-called pot belly (abdominal obesity), often have excess levels of the aromatase enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen. The prostate itself expresses aromatase that can convert testosterone into estrogen within the gland itself. Two herbal extracts used extensively in Europe (pygeum and nettle root) have demonstrated aromatase-suppressing effects in vitro, especially when they are used together. 150
Why this study is irrelevant to aging men today
European doctors use various combinations of pygeum, nettle root, beta-sitosterol, saw palmetto, and other herbs to treat benign prostate disease. Despite numerous scientific studies indicating that treatment of prostate enlargement should include a combination of herbal extracts, the doctors who designed the one recent negative study choose to test saw palmetto in isolation.
Based on evidence that prostate disease is caused by several different factors, it would appear that the recent study that used only saw palmetto to treat men with moderate-to-severe prostate disease was designed to fail. The study therefore has no relevance to men taking combination supplements that provide nettle root (Urtica dioica), pygeum, beta-sitosterol, and other plant extracts that have proven efficacy in dozens of published scientific studies. 151-181
It is important to also note that this is only one study of a relatively small group of men with moderate-to-severe prostate enlargement who were only allowed to use saw palmetto. Ten times as many men with varying degrees of prostate disease have participated in other studies that showed even saw palmetto taken by itself to be highly effective. 121-141
Exposing the recent media attack against dietary supplements
Over the past several months, the media has questioned the efficacy of several popular dietary supplements. In the upcoming June 2006 issue of Life Extension magazine, we dissect these negative media reports down to the bone to reveal the hard scientific facts.
In doing so, we expose the absurdity of the headline-hungry media making proclamations such as “another natural remedy bit the dust” when describing the recent glucosamine study. We also reveal the inappropriateness of conventional doctors, with little knowledge about the proper use of nutrients, but with strong financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry, conducting studies that contain so many flaws that their findings are largely irrelevant.
Members of the Life Extension Foundation discover the science behind the headlines in order to avoid being victimized by the medical establishment’s ominous propaganda machine.
For longer life,
P.S.- At the beginning of this letter, I stated that the front page of the Wall Street Journal featured an article stating:
“Design problems in all the trials means the results don’t really answer the questions they were supposed to address. And a flawed communications effort led to widespread misinterpretation of the results by the news media and the public.” 1
It is important to note that like other media outlets, the Wall Street Journal (in other articles) regurgitated the same negative reports about dietary supplements as did the New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, et al.
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