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MEDICAL AD WATCH

An occasional analysis of drug and health supplement advertising by Times medical writer Wes Allison

Brand name: JointEase

Purpose: Stop arthritic and other joint pain and stiffness

Manufacturer: Cambridge Research Laboratories, West Greenwich, R.I.

Availability: Phone or mail order. No prescription needed.

Cost: The ad says $49.95, plus $5.50 postage and handling, for a 30-day supply of 90 capsules. Directions on the bottle call for nine capsules a day, making it a 10-day supply.

Key ingredients: Glucosomine, methylsuflonymethane (MSM) and cetyl myristoleate (CMO), plus bromelain, turmeric, quiercetin and magnesium.

Side effects: None stated.

The Campaign: Cambridge is promoting the product in full-page newspaper advertisements and radio spots.

The Pitch: "From the National Medical Conference on Aging ... Doctors say Good-Bye to Joint Stiffness and Discomfort."

The newspaper ad includes testimonials from satisfied customers, including R.S., Alabama, who was beset by terrible hip pain "three days after setting a world record in squat." But JointEase "didn't just stop my pain, it got rid of it," R.S. says.

How it works: JointEase claims to stop the arthritic process, giving the "body a chance to heal itself and return to normal. Frequently, this happens in just a few days, even in many severe cases."

How it scores: Buyer beware. With its fantastic claims of a "dramatic breakthrough" that "naturally soothes painful joints, unlocks stiff joints and restores freedom of movement, side-effect free," experts say this ad appears to overstep the bounds of credibility.

And while the ad cites official-sounding research, the information isn't all current. Neither the U.S. Administration on Aging, the National Institute on Aging nor other aging-related clearinghouses has heard of the "National Conference on Aging."

The ad also mentions the work of a researcher at the federal Institute of Arthritis, Metabolic, and Digestive Diseases, but that agency was dissolved at least 15 years ago. The researcher, Dr. Harry W. Diehl, hasn't worked for the National Institutes of Health for years, and an NIH spokeswoman could find no current record of him.

One of the key ingredients, glucosomine, has long been thought to help ease achy joints and is available in many widely advertised dietary supplements. The NIH is conducting a clinical trial to determine how well it really works.

The other so-called "miracle" ingredients in JointEase, MSM and CMO, are being studied as well, but information about them is shaky.

"I would absolutely say that if any alternative therapy that sounds too good, it probably is," said Gwen Kessler, executive director of the Gulf Coast branch of the Arthritis Foundation.

"And if their doctor hasn't heard about it, they need to educate themselves and bring the information to their doctor so their doctor can dissect it."

Cambridge could not be reached for comment. The Times traced its address to a moving and storage company in West Greenwich, R.I., but could not find its administrative offices. The only phone numbers available led to operators who were contracted to take orders, and Cambridge never answered a letter sent two weeks ago to a fax number that was provided in the advertisement and by one of the operators.

Doctors warn that even so-called natural remedies can have dangerous side effects for people with other health problems, or for people who must have surgery. Glucosomine can be especially dangerous for diabetics, Kessler said.

Because arthritis ebbs and flows, people often mistakingly credit an alternative treatment when it was simply part of the cycle.

"You can have a flare-up of arthritis, you can have a good day and you can have a bad day," Kessler said. "If something like this were a cure for arthritis, everybody would be taking it."

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