The Glucosamine House of Cards Starts To Shake

Fly mask

Fly mask

It’s been a while since I’ve written about glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, two of the most monetarily successful supplements every foisted on the public.  I say, “Monetarily successful” because there is little in the way of good evidence to suggest that glucosamine, a sugar compound that is usually paired with another substance called chondroitin sulfate, does anything at all to help joints (horse joints or people joints), but that inconvenient fact hasn’t stopped the selling of the substances from becoming a billion-dollar industry.  If you want some more detail, you can read what I’ve written about glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate if you CLICK HERE.  And if you’re a bottom-line type person, you can just not buy the stuff and go buy your horse some more carrots or a new fly mask with the money you save.

Still, there are four facts that have led to some very interesting and very recent legal actions.  Here are those facts:

1.  Over the past couple of decades since glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have been on the market, the bulk of evidence from good scientific studies suggest that the products don’t do anything.

2.  In spite of the lack of evidence, people buy the products because of the claims made, and other people are making a fortune selling the stuff.

3.  The claims made for the products are often bogus.

4.  People shouldn’t lie to people.

LawyerCartoonSharks So, while the lack of supporting science (or even much sense) hasn’t apparently stopped people from crushing crab shells (a source of glucosamine) or grinding up cow windpipes (a source of chondroitin sulfate), one enterprising group has decided to take on an entire industry, figuring, as they often do, that there is money out there to be had.


Suffice it to say that I could fill a page with lawyer jokes.  In fact, if you want to read 185 lawyer jokes, you can CLICK HERE. And that’s just a start.

Gilded lilly

Gilded lilly

Anyway, apparently, the legal profession has taken notice of the fact that the purveyors of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have been gilding the lilly* when it comes to their product(s).  And so, taking note of the outrageous claims that are sometimes made for the products, various legal groups decided to do what they do so well (or at least so often):  they sued.  And guess what?  They’re winning.

In Chicago, Illinois, on April 15, 2013, a federal court gave preliminary approval to a class-action settlement involving glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate products marketed by Rexall Sundown, Inc. and NBTY, Inc. and sold at Costco under the Kirkland label (CLICK HERE if you want to see the text of the settlement). There were six lawsuits filed against the companies, all of which alleged that they had made various statements made for their glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate produce were false, misleading, deceptive or – GASP – all three.  As is typical in these sorts of cases, the companies deny wrongdoing, but even though they claim they didn’t do anything wrong, they did agree to pay up to $2 million to settle consumer claims. To use a horse phrase, “That ain’t hay.”

The companies also agreed that there are certain things that they can’t say anymore.  Some might call some of those statements, “Stretching the truth” – others might not be so charitable.   Anyway, here are some of the statements that were made in support of the glucosamine/chondroitin products which the companies in this lawsuit can no longer say.  See if any of them sound familiar (HINT:  If they don’t sound familiar, you haven’t been reading any advertisements. or you’ve been living under a rock.)

  • living-under-a-rock Builds, renews, or repairs cartilage
  • Helps build, renew, repair, protect, or lubricate cartilage
  • Works by providing the nourishment your body needs to build, lubricate, and strengthen joints
  • Helps protect cartilage against annoying flare-ups while helping to renew the cellular components within joints
  • Just one caplet is all you need to help protect cartilage, revitalize connective tissue, and help ease occasional joint stress.

By the way, in case you’ve been taken in by any of this, there’s actually a glucosamine settlement web site, which has information for consumers who are eligible for reimbursement, which you can access if you CLICK HERE.

bandwagon-2 The lawsuits don’t just stop with this one, either.  I mean, the glucosamine/chondroitin bandwagon is a large one, and there are lots of players in the market.  Thus, two other class-action suits are pending. One was filed in 2012, in New York.  That lawsuit alleges that 21st Century Healthcare, Inc. falsely advertised that its “Glucosamine 750 Chondroitin 600 Triple Strength” products will restore lost cartilage. Plain and simple, no product or procedure can do that, and anyone who says that there product or procedure can do that is out on a limb that’s not attached to a tree.  The other lawsuit, was filed in 2013 in California Federal Court.  That suit accuses Nutramax Laboratories, Walmart, and Rite Aid of falsely advertising the effectiveness of glucosamine. And, in case you didn’t know, Nutramax Labs makes Cosequin®, which is probably the most popular and widely advertised of the joint supplements advertised to horse owners.  Funny how this supplement stuff seems to so easily cross species lines.

Snake-Oil.1 All of this is happening because we are currently in an medical age of false claims and quackery that rivals the mid-19th century, when “Snake Oil” salesmen sold products out of the back of their wagons.  The federal government has pretty much hamstrung the ability of its agencies to do anything about all of the supplement fraud, and there’s not a lot of money being devoted to investigating the fraud, either.  So, apparently, it’s up to the attorneys, which, I suppose, is better than nothing.

Which glucosamine/chondrotin supplements aren’t.  Nothing works just as well, and it’s a lot cheaper.


* The phrase “gilding the lilly,” referring to giving something a deceptively improved appearance, links back to Shakespeare’s 1595 play, King John.  Shakespeare never actually used the exact phrase, but he got the idea started.  CLICK HERE if you are really interested.  If not, it’s OK.

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