Let’s face it, supplements piss off academics. Why? They’re naturally occurring substances that allow patients to remedy their own problems without asking for permission from the gods of academia. Hence, every year or so, you’ll see a bevy of academic press releases generate a handful of major new stories about the horrors of “unregulated” supplement use. What pisses academics off more than the existence of supplements? When they’re shown to be superior to the side-effect-laden medication concoctions that came from their academic labs through the pharma-university industrial complex. Case in point this morning is a new high-quality study showing the superiority of chondroitin sulfate over Celebrex.
What Is Chondroitin Sulfate?
Chondroitin sulfate is a glycosaminoglycan (GAG) that is typically made from breaking down shellfish and other animal by-products. GAGs, like chondroitin, aid in joint lubrication and shock absorption, which makes them an important structural component of cartilage, and chondroitin also helps cartilage retain water. Chondroitin, therefore, is often recommended to patients with arthritis who are losing or have lost cartilage. Chondroitin sulfate is not a medication; it is a nutritional supplement that appears to be outperforming Celebrex, its medication equivalent. And unlike Celebrex, it is safe for long-term use, and there are few known side effects.
What Is Celebrex and What Are Its Side Effects?
You’ve likely seen the commercials for Celebrex (i.e., celecoxib), showing smiling elderly and middle-aged people being active. It’s an NSAID drug, which means it’s an anti-inflammatory medication. NSAIDs relieve pain and reduce inflammation, so Celebrex is a common prescription medication for patients with arthritis. Celebrex, along with other NSAIDs, has serious side effects, including the following:
- GI bleeding and gastrointestinal tract injury
- Risk of sudden-death heart attack
- Risk of death due to stroke
- May actually make arthritis worse
- Disruption of stem cell function, cartilage function, and healing.
- Link to Alzheimer’s disease
If this isn’t enough, the AHA and FDA have both issued warnings about these dangerous drugs:
- The American Heart Association (AHA) NSAID warnings
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) NSAID warnings
The New Study: Chondroitin Beats Celebrex
The new study was two-years-long and used MRI to investigate the effects of chondroitin sulfate versus Celebrex on cartilage volume loss. Researchers also looked at the structural changes and signs and symptoms of arthritis. Images were taken at the start of the study and then at 12 months and 24 months and results compared. While both chondroitin and Celebrex relieved pain and stiffness over the two-year study period, chondroitin slowed the progression of arthritis with regard to cartilage and bone changes more than Celebrex. The research concluded, “This study demonstrated, for the first time in a 2-year randomised controlled trial using qMRI, the superiority of CS over celecoxib at reducing CVL (cartilage loss) in knee OA patients.” Translation: chondroitin beats Celebrex for arthritis.
Should Supplements Be Regulated like Drugs?
The academic community has long sought FDA drug-type regulations for supplements. The problem is that these natural substances have no patent protection, so this would mean that no investor in his or her right mind would ever invest the tens to hundreds of millions to get FDA approval, leading supplements to be relegated to the dustbin of medical history. However, one look at this study shows why FDA drug regulation of natural substances is an idea that would hurt and not help society. For example, if supplements weren’t widely available and patients hadn’t been reporting for years to their doctors that chondroitin worked for their arthritis, this study of a cheap and plentiful natural substance never would have taken place. Hence, a world without the ability to take whatever supplement seems to work is one where medical care gets infinitely more expensive as the university-pharma industrial complex lines its pockets with our money and shoves side-effect laden drugs down our proverbial throats.
Supplements are a bottom-up new therapy discovery. Patients take them and the group wisdom picks out the ones that work from the ones that don’t. This is the opposite of a top-down-type medical discovery where a new chemical with patentability is discovered that is then tried in animals and then a clinical trial.
The upshot? At the end of the day, it’s amazing that chondroitin beats Celebrex again. Think about it, a natural substance derived from shellfish or cows is able to prevent arthritis in a large randomized controlled trial! This study also shows why FDA drug regulation of supplements is a bad idea. We need as many options that come from the bottom-up development pathway as possible.