One of the studies that Fabricant refers to is the Glucosamine/Chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT) funded by the National Institutes of Health. This trial, one of the largest of its kind in the United States, seemed to suggest that chondroitin, taken along with the supplement glucosamine, reduced pain for a small group of patients.
However, while these dietary supplements showed hints of possible benefits, experts emphasize that rigorous statistical analysis found none of these hints to be real.
Furthermore, Felson added that this new study, which included GAIT, "used very sophisticated strategies to determine what was most trustworthy of finding."
"They took the largest and best done studies and showed no efficacy. I think that's very believable." he said.
Most experts remain unconvinced that chondroitin has any beneficial effects for joints. But they also agree that it has not been found to be harmful.
Considering this, some doctors such as Dr. David Campen, medical director of drug information, utilization and technology for Kaiser's California pharmacy operations, "would encourage [patients] to try [chondroitin] for four to six weeks to see if it helps their particular case of arthritis."
Nortin Hadler, attending rheumatologist at the University of North Carolina Hospitals, however, has a different take.
"Ingesting chondroitin is a waste of money," he said. "I've long said that, and told my patients."
"Some have money to waste. So be it."
After informing patients that data supporting the use of chondroitin in treating arthritis are lacking, most doctors ultimately leave the decision up to them.
It's not uncommon for patients to experience improvement simply from taking a pill, so Felson said, "If patients come to me and tell me it's helping, I don't dissuade them from taking it. When people come to me who aren't on it and ask if they should take it, I don't recommend it."
Dr. Peter Juni, head of the division of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Berne in Switzerland and senior author of the new study, added that they made the best of studies they had to work with and cannot rule out a possible benefit of chondroitin in a select group of patients, but that more studies need to be performed.