What Vitamins Should I Take? Secrets Doctors Tell Their Friends

When physicians have heart-to-heart chats with their pals, their advice often differs from the medical standard.


Also in Reader's Digest Magazine August 2013

By Richard Laliberte from Reader's Digest Magazine | August 2013

“Got achy, arthritic knees? Glucosamine/chondroitin is worth a try.”

Although his own research concluded that glucosamine/chondroitin—renowned for its purported ability to relieve osteoarthritis symptoms—had no effect on joint pain or function, Allen D. Sawitzke, MD, recommends it to friends with moderate pain anyway. The reason: “Some people do really well on it, even though others don’t,” says Dr. Sawitzke, an associate professor at the University of Utah Hospital and Clinics in Salt Lake City and an investigator for the national Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT).

Experts think these chemicals, which occur naturally in joints, help build cartilage and supporting tissue and work best as a duo. The trial—which compared the supplement with an anti-inflammatory pain reliever and a placebo—showed that, on average, people experienced no benefit from either treatment after two years. But Dr. Sawitzke points out the fine print: Glucosamine/chondroitin didn’t help everyone universally, but some people who took it lost ten times less cartilage. And the compounds significantly eased pain for 79 percent of participants during the first two months.

So should you take a supplement?

If you have moderate arthritis pain, consider trying glucosamine/chondroitin for two to three months. If you don’t see a benefit by then, you’re probably not going to, Dr. Sawitzke says.

Next: Has vitamin D been oversold?

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