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‘Arthritis Cure’ Book Gives Some Scientists A Pain

Could it really be? Arthritis cured by gulping down nutrient pills bought over the counter at the neighborhood health-food shop?

It is the promise heralded in a new book, and like oxygen to fire, that tome has ignited a publishing sensation - and a medical controversy.

The title is audacious: “The Arthritis Cure.” And the response to Dr. Jason Theodosakis’ book is just as bold: While arthritis sufferers flooded stores to buy 100,000 copies in four days this month, critics stopped just short of calling the young doctor a charlatan.

Theodosakis’ gospel of healing was extolled by none other than the nation’s premier health writer, Jane Brody, who in her column for The New York Times, said the nutrients have helped ease her arthritic pain.

And the book is being so hungrily consumed that a week after it appeared, the book debuted at the No. 8 slot on The Wall Street Journal’s non-fiction best-seller roster.

“That’s the wrong list,” said Dr. Roy Altman, chief of arthritis at the University of Miami and director of geriatric research at the Veterans Affairs Miami hospital. “It should be on the fiction list.”

The book extols the healing powers of two nutrients: glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates, pills that can be bought at health-food shops and drug stores without a prescription.

So far, there have been no completed studies of the pills in the United States, none of the typical rigorous review required by the American medical establishment before it will give a drug the imprimatur of cure.

A review of 11 of the studies listed in “The Arthritis Cure” shows that the bulk of the research was done in Europe in the early 1980s. Some American scientists argue that could make it dangerously outdated and that it could reflect a period when European research standards were inferior to methods in the United States.

The largest study cited in the book was a sweeping project in Portugal in 1980 and ‘81. It included 252 doctors who gave 1,208 patients doses of glucosamine during a nine-month period. Patient and doctor knew exactly what was being given.

The study from Portugal and the other research reported that glucosamine significantly reduced pain with few patients reporting side effects. Other studies, in fact, suggest glucosamine and chondroitin cause significantly fewer upset stomachs than, say, ibuprofen, a key ingredient in popular pain relievers.

“But 15, 20 years ago was a different ballgame in research than what it is now,” UM’s Altman said. “Our demands upon ourselves have changed so dramatically that studies done today are much higher and much purer.”

Such studies are under way by a North Carolina surgeon and researchers elsewhere in the United States.