Ask the expert
Diana Post, M.D., is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Q: Is there any evidence that the dietary supplement Osteo Bi-Flex helps keep arthritis in check?
Osteo Bi-Flex is a supplement you can buy without a prescription. It claims to improve joint health, promote mobility, help renew cartilage, and lubricate joints. There is little evidence to support these claims. At best, you could expect this product to ease pain a little.
Osteo Bi-Flex appears to contain chondroitin and glucosamine. It also has other compounds the company calls "Joint Shield," including an extract of Boswellia serrata.
I could find no evidence to support the claims that the "joint shield" ingredients improve joint health.
Studies have looked at chondroitin and glucosamine in the treatment of arthritis and joint pain. Most studies have looked at the sulfate form of glucosamine. (Osteo Bi-flex does not contain this form. It contains glucosamine HCL.) Some researchers think the "sulfate" part is important, and that it may be more effective than other forms of glucosamine.
A large research study was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It included more than 1500 people with osteoarthritis of the knee. They were given one of the following:
A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID)
Glucosamine and condroitin (either alone or together)
A placebo (a substance with no medical effect; sometimes called a "sugar" pill)
Researchers found that only the NSAID showed significant pain relief compared to the placebo. Overall, there were no significant differences between the placebo and the glucosamine-chondroitin (either together or alone).
A small group of people in the study had moderate to severe pain. In this group, the glucosamine-chondroitin did provide some reduction in pain. But glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate (together or alone) was no better than the placebo in slowing joint damage and the loss of cartilage.
There is other research that suggests that glucosamine reduces the knee pain of osteoarthritis about as well as acetaminophen (Tylenol).
I don't think Osteo Bi-Flex can slow down joint damage or help rebuild cartilage. Personally, I would not spend my money on this product, based on the current scientific information.