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Dietary supplements for treating osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  1. Xiaoqian Liu1,2,
  2. Gustavo C Machado3,
  3. Jillian P Eyles1,2,4,
  4. Varshini Ravi1,2,
  5. David J Hunter1,2
  1. 1Department of Rheumatology, Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards, Australia
  2. 2Institute of Bone and Joint Research, The Kolling Institute, The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  3. 3Sydney Medical School, The George Institute for Global Health, The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  4. 4Department of Physiotherapy, Sydney Medical School, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr David J Hunter, Department of Rheumatology, Royal North Shore Hospital, St. Leonards, NSW 2065, Australia; david.hunter{at}


Objective To investigate the efficacy and safety of dietary supplements for patients with osteoarthritis.

Design An intervention systematic review with random effects meta-analysis and meta-regression.

Data sources MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials, Allied and Complementary Medicine and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature were searched from inception to April 2017.

Study eligibility criteria Randomised controlled trials comparing oral supplements with placebo for hand, hip or knee osteoarthritis.

Results Of 20 supplements investigated in 69 eligible studies, 7 (collagen hydrolysate, passion fruit peel extract, Curcuma longa extract, Boswellia serrata extract, curcumin, pycnogenol and L-carnitine) demonstrated large (effect size >0.80) and clinically important effects for pain reduction at short term. Another six (undenatured type II collagen, avocado soybean unsaponifiables, methylsulfonylmethane, diacerein, glucosamine and chondroitin) revealed statistically significant improvements on pain, but were of unclear clinical importance. Only green-lipped mussel extract and undenatured type II collagen had clinically important effects on pain at medium term. No supplements were identified with clinically important effects on pain reduction at long term. Similar results were found for physical function. Chondroitin demonstrated statistically significant, but not clinically important structural improvement (effect size −0.30, –0.42 to −0.17). There were no differences between supplements and placebo for safety outcomes, except for diacerein. The Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation suggested a wide range of quality evidence from very low to high.

Conclusions The overall analysis including all trials showed that supplements provided moderate and clinically meaningful treatment effects on pain and function in patients with hand, hip or knee osteoarthritis at short term, although the quality of evidence was very low. Some supplements with a limited number of studies and participants suggested large treatment effects, while widely used supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin were either ineffective or showed small and arguably clinically unimportant treatment effects. Supplements had no clinically important effects on pain and function at medium-term and long-term follow-ups.

  • meta-analysis
  • osteoarthritis
  • supplements
  • evidence based review

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  • Contributors XL, GCM, JE, DJH contributed to the design of this study. XL, VR conducted eligible study selection, data extraction and risk of bias assessment. XL, GCM undertook data analysis. XL drafted the manuscript. GCM, JE and DJH edited and reviewed the manuscript.

  • Funding This research was funded by an NHMRC programme grant APP 1091302. XL reports that her time on this review was supported by PuraPharm Postgraduate Scholarship in Integrated Medicine, Sydney Medical School. PuraPharm did not play any role in this review. GCM is supported by an Australian postgraduate award from the Department of Education and Training of Australia. DJH is supported by an NHMRC practitioner fellowship and is a consultant to Flexion, Nestle and Merck Serono.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.