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Joint supplements - are you getting your money's worth?

September 2, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
There's no known cure for osteoarthritis, but many people looking for pain relief from achy joints turn to supplements, which can be costly. Are people getting the ingredients they're paying for?

Victoria Primavera likes to stay active. So when she started feeling achy, she began taking nutritional supplements.

"I still have pain in my joints, but it's not so bad since I've been taking the glucosamine-chondroitin," Primavera said.

Jamie Kopf with Consumer Reports said some research suggests that the combination of glucosamine and chondroitin might reduce pain in some people who have osteoarthritis in their knees, but the evidence is still inconclusive. That's why Consumer Reports wanted to see whether patients are getting what they're paying for.

Consumer Reports tested 16 popular glucosamine-chondroitin supplements, evaluating three different samples of each.

First, the samples were tested to see if they contained the amount of glucosamine and chondroitin the label indicated. Also, they tested for heavy metals like mercury and lead.

"Our tests show that none of the supplements contained worrisome levels of lead or other toxic metals, and all of the products contained their labeled amounts of glucosamine," said Kopf.

But one supplement, Nature Made TripleFlex Triple Strength, averaged only 65 percent of the labeled amount of chondroitin.

Six others averaged 79 to 87 percent. Of the 16 tested, two did not dissolve sufficiently, indicating the ingredients might not be fully absorbed in the body. They were Trigosamine Max Strength and 365 Everyday Value Extra Strength from Whole Foods.

However, nine did meet Consumer Reports' quality criteria. The least expensive was Kirkland Signature Clinical Strength tablets from Costco.

Consumer Reports suggests checking with your doctor before trying joint supplements - particularly if you're taking blood thinners or if you're allergic to shellfish. Glucosamine is often made from shrimp shells, and it can increase the effects of blood thinners.


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