Safety of Popular Arthritis Supplements Questioned

In an Exclusive to Vertibrae's RheumatologyWeb, Experts Investigate Whether or

Not Chondroitin Supplements are Safe From Mad Cow Disease Contamination



Apr 10, 2001, 01:00 ET from RheumatologyWeb

    NEW YORK, April 10 /PRNewswire/ -- In an exclusive story published today
 on Vertibrae's e-magazine RheumatologyWeb (http://www.RheumatologyWeb.com),
 world renowned rheumatology expert Dr. Gerald Weissmann chronicles his
 investigation into whether or not the widely marketed and hugely popular
 dietary supplement chondroitin sulfate -- which is derived from cow
 cartilage -- is safe from contamination with bovine spongiform encephalopathy
 (BSE), or mad cow disease.
     The possibility of BSE contamination would have far-reaching implications
 for many of the nearly 40 million Americans suffering from osteoarthritis who
 are currently taking chondroitin.  Like all dietary supplements, chondroitin
 is unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and consumers
 must rely on manufacturers for information regarding a supplement's safety and
 purity.
     "Everything sold for human health should be regulated by the FDA," said
 Gerald Weissmann, M.D., professor of medicine and director of the
 Biotechnology Study Center at New York University School of Medicine, member
 of the RheumatologyWeb Advisory Board, and instigator of this investigation.
 "This issue typifies what happens when dietary supplements such as herbals or
 animal products are brought into the clinic without the FDA's rigorous
 regulation of purity, efficacy, safety, manufacturing practices and
 postmarketing surveillance."
     According to Dr. Weissmann, in order for a chondroitin sulfate supplement
 to be considered safe with regards to BSE, it must be derived solely from the
 cartilage of American cows.  "With many of these supplements being
 manufactured in Europe, the specter is certainly raised that this may not be
 the case.  The use of other tissues or cartilage from European cows
 significantly increases the risk of BSE contamination," explained Dr.
 Weissmann.
     Published exclusively on RheumatologyWeb, "The Chondroitin Sulfate
 Letters, a.k.a. The Mad Cow Memos" was prompted by a recommendation that
 appeared on the website DrTheo.com.  The site is written by Jason Theodosakis,
 M.D., assistant clinical professor at the University of Arizona College of
 Medicine and author of the best-selling The Arthritis Cure.  On the website,
 "Dr. Theo" urges arthritis sufferers to use chondroitin along with glucosamine
 as first-line treatment for arthritis - a recommendation at distinct odds with
 the current standard of care for osteoarthritis.
     RheumatologyWeb's "Mad Cow Memos" follows Dr. Weissmann's e-mail
 correspondence with Dr. Theo regarding the safety of these supplements, as
 well as his exchanges with rheumatology thought-leaders, including the
 president of the American College of Rheumatology and the clinical director of
 the Arthritis Foundation, and a consultant to the National Institutes of
 Health.
     "The replies to my correspondence suggest that good people -- some with
 the best of intentions and some with the best of credentials -- are often
 caught in a cat's cradle of populist belief," said Dr. Weissmann.  "What can
 be done if food supplements cannot be federally regulated?  If you can take
 St. John's Wort for depression and echinacea for colds, why not pop ground-up
 cow cartilage for arthritis?"
     Bruce N. Cronstein, M.D., professor of medicine and pathology at New York
 University School of Medicine, and chair of the RheumatologyWeb Advisory
 Board, added: "Although I'm sure chondroitin proponents are sincere in their
 belief that the supplements are derived solely from 'safe' sources, it is
 quite difficult to establish the source without some form of regulation.  I am
 heartened to hear that these manufacturers plan to adopt the FDA's Good
 Manufacturing Practice standards, but I'll believe it only when I see it."
     Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, is a painful condition
 in which the cushioning cartilage between bones is gradually destroyed.
 Because both chondroitin and glucosamine are components of normal cartilage
 that work in the body to stimulate and maintain cartilage growth, it is
 thought that the animal-derived dietary supplements may be able to help the
 body repair damaged cartilage.  However, to date there has been no definitive
 evidence that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates can help rebuild cartilage
 or prevent damage to cartilage, and the American College of Rheumatology
 currently does not recommend their use.
     The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, in
 collaboration with the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and
 Skin Diseases, has recently begun patient enrollment for the first,
 large-scale, multicenter study in the U.S. to investigate glucosamine and
 chondroitin dietary supplements -- in combination or alone -- as natural
 remedies for osteoarthritis.  Final results are expected in March 2005.
 However, the chondroitin being used in the study comes from a Spanish company,
 albeit one that claims to use only material from U.S. cows.
 
     About RheumatologyWeb
     Launched in May 2000, RheumatologyWeb (http://www.RheumatologyWeb.com) is
 a weekly e-magazine created for practicing, academic and student
 rheumatologists that serves as a peer-to-peer educational and informational
 resource in rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, lupus, vasculitis,
 osteoporosis, and other arthrititides.  RheumatologyWeb is supported by
 unrestricted educational grants from our sponsors and is maintained in
 association with the Division of Clinical and Molecular Pharmacology of the
 New York University School of Medicine.
     RheumatologyWeb is part of Vertibrae's growing family of online medical
 communities, including AnesthesiaWeb, HIVresistanceWeb, RadiologyWeb,
 GastroenterologyWeb, and the upcoming CardiologyWeb and InfectiousDiseaseWeb.
 Silicon Alley-based Vertibrae is a division of Mediaworks Inc.
 (http://www.mwnyc.com), a leading provider of interactive resources for
 medical professionals.
 
 

SOURCE RheumatologyWeb
    NEW YORK, April 10 /PRNewswire/ -- In an exclusive story published today
 on Vertibrae's e-magazine RheumatologyWeb (http://www.RheumatologyWeb.com),
 world renowned rheumatology expert Dr. Gerald Weissmann chronicles his
 investigation into whether or not the widely marketed and hugely popular
 dietary supplement chondroitin sulfate -- which is derived from cow
 cartilage -- is safe from contamination with bovine spongiform encephalopathy
 (BSE), or mad cow disease.
     The possibility of BSE contamination would have far-reaching implications
 for many of the nearly 40 million Americans suffering from osteoarthritis who
 are currently taking chondroitin.  Like all dietary supplements, chondroitin
 is unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and consumers
 must rely on manufacturers for information regarding a supplement's safety and
 purity.
     "Everything sold for human health should be regulated by the FDA," said
 Gerald Weissmann, M.D., professor of medicine and director of the
 Biotechnology Study Center at New York University School of Medicine, member
 of the RheumatologyWeb Advisory Board, and instigator of this investigation.
 "This issue typifies what happens when dietary supplements such as herbals or
 animal products are brought into the clinic without the FDA's rigorous
 regulation of purity, efficacy, safety, manufacturing practices and
 postmarketing surveillance."
     According to Dr. Weissmann, in order for a chondroitin sulfate supplement
 to be considered safe with regards to BSE, it must be derived solely from the
 cartilage of American cows.  "With many of these supplements being
 manufactured in Europe, the specter is certainly raised that this may not be
 the case.  The use of other tissues or cartilage from European cows
 significantly increases the risk of BSE contamination," explained Dr.
 Weissmann.
     Published exclusively on RheumatologyWeb, "The Chondroitin Sulfate
 Letters, a.k.a. The Mad Cow Memos" was prompted by a recommendation that
 appeared on the website DrTheo.com.  The site is written by Jason Theodosakis,
 M.D., assistant clinical professor at the University of Arizona College of
 Medicine and author of the best-selling The Arthritis Cure.  On the website,
 "Dr. Theo" urges arthritis sufferers to use chondroitin along with glucosamine
 as first-line treatment for arthritis - a recommendation at distinct odds with
 the current standard of care for osteoarthritis.
     RheumatologyWeb's "Mad Cow Memos" follows Dr. Weissmann's e-mail
 correspondence with Dr. Theo regarding the safety of these supplements, as
 well as his exchanges with rheumatology thought-leaders, including the
 president of the American College of Rheumatology and the clinical director of
 the Arthritis Foundation, and a consultant to the National Institutes of
 Health.
     "The replies to my correspondence suggest that good people -- some with
 the best of intentions and some with the best of credentials -- are often
 caught in a cat's cradle of populist belief," said Dr. Weissmann.  "What can
 be done if food supplements cannot be federally regulated?  If you can take
 St. John's Wort for depression and echinacea for colds, why not pop ground-up
 cow cartilage for arthritis?"
     Bruce N. Cronstein, M.D., professor of medicine and pathology at New York
 University School of Medicine, and chair of the RheumatologyWeb Advisory
 Board, added: "Although I'm sure chondroitin proponents are sincere in their
 belief that the supplements are derived solely from 'safe' sources, it is
 quite difficult to establish the source without some form of regulation.  I am
 heartened to hear that these manufacturers plan to adopt the FDA's Good
 Manufacturing Practice standards, but I'll believe it only when I see it."
     Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, is a painful condition
 in which the cushioning cartilage between bones is gradually destroyed.
 Because both chondroitin and glucosamine are components of normal cartilage
 that work in the body to stimulate and maintain cartilage growth, it is
 thought that the animal-derived dietary supplements may be able to help the
 body repair damaged cartilage.  However, to date there has been no definitive
 evidence that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates can help rebuild cartilage
 or prevent damage to cartilage, and the American College of Rheumatology
 currently does not recommend their use.
     The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, in
 collaboration with the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and
 Skin Diseases, has recently begun patient enrollment for the first,
 large-scale, multicenter study in the U.S. to investigate glucosamine and
 chondroitin dietary supplements -- in combination or alone -- as natural
 remedies for osteoarthritis.  Final results are expected in March 2005.
 However, the chondroitin being used in the study comes from a Spanish company,
 albeit one that claims to use only material from U.S. cows.
 
     About RheumatologyWeb
     Launched in May 2000, RheumatologyWeb (http://www.RheumatologyWeb.com) is
 a weekly e-magazine created for practicing, academic and student
 rheumatologists that serves as a peer-to-peer educational and informational
 resource in rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, lupus, vasculitis,
 osteoporosis, and other arthrititides.  RheumatologyWeb is supported by
 unrestricted educational grants from our sponsors and is maintained in
 association with the Division of Clinical and Molecular Pharmacology of the
 New York University School of Medicine.
     RheumatologyWeb is part of Vertibrae's growing family of online medical
 communities, including AnesthesiaWeb, HIVresistanceWeb, RadiologyWeb,
 GastroenterologyWeb, and the upcoming CardiologyWeb and InfectiousDiseaseWeb.
 Silicon Alley-based Vertibrae is a division of Mediaworks Inc.
 (http://www.mwnyc.com), a leading provider of interactive resources for
 medical professionals.
 
 SOURCE  RheumatologyWeb