This succinct story – only 348 words – nicely captures the main message of new research showing that the nutritional supplement chondroitin is no better at relieving arthritis pain than placebo. It includes good sources and makes clear that chondroitin, though not proven to be effective, is also not harmful. But the story might help the reader evaluate the evidence if it explained a little more. For example, the authors of the analysis found that the effect of chondroitin on pain was equivalent to an improvement of 0.6 millimeters on a 10-centimeter scale—extremely tiny. This piece of data would have provided readers with a quantifiable estimate of non-efficacy. The story also neglects to note that there are other nonsurgical therapies that can help. Though there is no cure-all for osteoarthritis, conservative care include analgesics, exercise and physical therapy, devices such as canes and braces, and other strategies.
The story mentions the total amount that Americans spent on chondroitin supplements ($810 million in 2005), but not the individual's cost of purchasing the pills.
The story states that chondroitin is no better than placebo, a conclusion that might seem difficult to quantify. But the authors of the analysis illustrate this non-difference nicely in a piece of data missing in the news report. The effect of chondroitin on pain, they found, was equivalent to an improvement of 0.6 millimeters on a 10-centimeter scale—in other words, extremely tiny.
The story notes that there were no side effects from chondroitin and quotes an editorialist explaining that there was no harm in taking the supplements if patients felt they migh relieve pain.
The news story mentions that the research analysis focused on three of the “largest and most complete studies.” It's interesting to note the limitations and flaws of the other 17 studies that the researchers did not analyze. In addition to being small, as the news story notes, these randomized, double-blind trials showed tremendous variance in their results, did not adequately conceal from patients whether they received chondroitin or placebo, and failed to include dropouts in their analyses.
The story contained no elements of disease mongering. Osteoarthritis afflicts some 20 million Americans. It’s an important and often painful and disabling disease.
The story includes quotes from interviews with two good sources—the lead author of the new research paper and a spokesperson for a trade group for supplement makers. It also cites an accompanying editorial in the journal that published the research.
The news story notes that glucosamine is used to treat osteoarthritis (alone or in combination with chondroitin), but neglects to mention other nonoperative strategies that help patients cope with arthritis pain. These include analgesics, exercise and physical therapy, devices such as canes and braces, and others.
The news story mentions that chondroitin is a dietary supplement, suggesting that it is available in stores that sell supplements.
Readers should be able to infer that chondroitin is not an entirely novel therapy, since there are already at least 20 randomized trials examining its purported benefits.
The story did not appear to rely solely or largely on a news release.