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Eggshell membrane may outperform glucosamine for joint health

By Stephen Daniells , 12-Aug-2009
Last updated on 14-Aug-2009 at 17:00 GMT2009-08-14T17:00:29Z

Eggshell membrane may outperform glucosamine for joint health

Extracts from the membrane of an eggshell may improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis, and offer an alternative to glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate, suggest new findings.

A daily supplement of 500 milligrams of the eggshell membrane was found to not only reduce joint pain, but also stiffness, with effects noted after only ten days, according to results of a randomised, multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

The study, which was funded by Missouri-based ESM Technologies and uses the company’s ingredient, is published in the current issue of Clinical Rheumatology.

Outperforming the established ingredients

The researchers also report that the effects were superior to those recorded in previous clinical investigations for glucosamine and chondroitin, the big hitters in the joint health supplements world.

Glucosamine is extracted from the shell of crabs, lobster and shrimps. Cargill also markets a non-animal, non-shellfish derived product. The ingredient is often used in combination with chondroitin sulphate, extracted from animal cartilage, such as sharks.

According to the Nutrition Business Journal, US sales for these combined supplements were $810 million (€563 million) in 2005.

“The safety profile for [the natural eggshell membrane (NEM) supplement] is also of significance as there are no known side effects, excluding the obvious egg allergy concern,” wrote the researchers. “This is of obvious importance in a condition that requires long-term [supplementation].”

Approximately seven million people in the UK alone are reported to have long-term health problems associated with arthritis. Around 206 million working days were lost in the UK in 1999-2000, equal to £18 billion (€26 billion) of lost productivity.

Study details

Sixty-seven people with osteoarthritis were recruited and randomly assigned to one of two groups: The first received NEM (500 mg), and the other received a placebo. The researchers used the Western Ontario and McMasters Universities (WOMAC) Osteoarthritis Index as a measure of arthritis symptom, as well as pain, stiffness, and function.

According to their results, volunteers receiving the eggshell membrane experienced a “relatively rapid response for all WOMAC scores”, compared to placebo.

By the end of 60 days, statistically significant improvements for both pain and stiffness were recorded by the researchers, while joint function was not significantly improved, they said.

“By the end of the follow-up period, the mean response remained approximately 15 per cent for all WOMAC scores except stiffness which was 26.6 per cent,” wrote the researchers.

“While this is superior to the response shown for glucosamine and chondroitin in previous clinical investigations, it failed to reach the expected 35 per cent response rate employed in the clinical design.

“Despite this shortcoming, the results were shown to be statistically significant,” they added.

Commenting on the bio-active ingredients, the researchers note that the membrane contains both glycosaminoglycans and other proteins reportedly essential for maintaining healthy cartilage in the joints.

Next stage

The report in Clinical Rheumatology notes that a large number of participants dropped out of the study (43 per cent). The researchers also note that it would have been useful to include another arm in the study with a comparative intervention.

“A larger follow-up study with some modifications may allow us to better determine which patients are most helped by NEM supplementation,” concluded the researchers.

Source: Clinical Rheumatology
August 2009, Volume 28, Issue 8, Pages 907-914
“Eggshell membrane in the treatment of pain and stiffness from osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized, multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study”
Authors: K.J. Ruff, A. Winkler, R.W. Jackson, D.P. DeVore, B.W. Ritz
To read the full study, please click here .

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