Turmeric Curcumin: A safe, natural alternative to your arthritis medication
If you have osteoarthritis, then you know pain. This debilitating condition affects nearly a quarter of adults in America (upwards of 54 million people). And more than $80 billion dollars is spent every year on treating arthritis—usually with drugs and therapies that end up being ineffective.
What Is Arthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Sometimes called “wear and tear” arthritis, it most often affects the joints in the hands, hips, and knees. With arthritis, the cartilage and bones within a joint begin to break down slowly, and get worse over time. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, swelling, and decreased range of motion.
The biggest risk factor for arthritis is age, but joint injury, obesity, genetics, and gender (being female) are other factors.
Rheumatoid arthritis also affects the joints, but it’s not caused by wear and tear or old age. It’s actually an autoimmune disorder, which means the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. While osteoarthritis affects the cartilage in between joints, rheumatoid affects the lining of the joints, causing swelling and eventually leading to joint deformity.
The treatments for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis differ, but both are largely drug focused.
Both conditions are most commonly treated with anti-inflammatories and pain medication (although this isn’t a “treatment” as much as a convenient way to mask symptoms). Exercise, weight loss, and physical therapy are effective treatments for osteoarthritis, as they get to the root cause of the arthritis and work to slow or halt progression of the disease.
We recommend these non-drug therapies, along with supplements that support the joints and rebuild cartilage—the cushioning around the joints that deteriorates, causing the telltale symptoms of arthritis.
I’m sure you’ve heard of some of the most common joint supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin. Both are excellent choices for relieving arthritis pain and swelling, and rebuilding cartilage. But they can take up to eight weeks to “kick in” and they’re only effective for about half the people who try them.
However, exciting research shows that there’s an alternative supplement for both forms of arthritis: curcumin.
What is Curcumin?
Curcumin is the active ingredient in the bright yellow spice turmeric. Turmeric is a common ingredient in Asian cuisines (you may have had it in yellow curry), as well as being a staple of Ayurvedic medicine. (Turmeric is also used as a natural yellow dye, so be careful with any curcumin supplements. They can definitely stain.) Thousands of studies have shown curcumin’s ability to fight bacteria, viruses, depression, inflammation, and chronic diseases—including arthritis.
Curcumin’s greatest benefit is its inflammation-fighting properties. The importance of this cannot be understated because inflammation is the root of nearly all diseases. By reducing and reversing inflammation, your body is healthier and less disease prone.
Curcumin Reduces Pain and Inflammation
When it comes to arthritis, curcumin has been shown to decrease pain and inflammation associated with the disease. The research is strong and convincing.
One study looked at how patients with osteoarthritis of the knee fared after eight weeks of curcumin treatment. Fifty participants with moderate to severe arthritis took either placebo or a special curcumin formulation called Theracurmin (containing 180 mg of curcumin) every day for eight weeks.
Their symptoms were evaluated every two weeks. After eight weeks, knee pain scores were significantly lower for most in the curcumin group vs. the placebo. The curcumin group also had lower dependence on pain medication than those in the placebo group. Even better—no side effects were noted, a rarity for conventional pain meds.
Another published paper—a systematic review and meta-analysis of eight clinical trials—looked at curcumin/turmeric treatment for osteoarthritis. Overall, the pain scores in the curcumin groups were much lower than those in the placebos. There was also little difference in pain relief between commercially available pain medicines and curcumin. This suggests that curcumin may have similar benefits as drugs, but without the short- and long-term side effects.
Another review that looked at curcumin’s anti-arthritic properties found that, “Patients with osteoarthritis showed improvement in pain, physical function, and quality of life after taking curcumin. They also reported reduced concomitant usage of analgesics [such as Tylenol] and side effects during treatment.”
This same paper also concluded that curcumin could prevent the loss of chondrocytes—cells found in healthy cartilage. In addition, curcumin suppresses the release of inflammatory compounds that cause the chondrocytes to die off in the first place.
Earlier research, this time on rheumatoid arthritis, discovered that turmeric “profoundly inhibited joint inflammation and periarticular joint destruction.” It also prevented the activation of genes associated with joint inflammation and damage.
Curcumin Dosage for Arthritis
Research shows that 500 mg, twice a day (and up to four times a day) is the dosage most helpful for treating osteoarthritis, as well as many other conditions associated with inflammation, such as cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Unfortunately, curcumin is difficult for the human body to absorb and maintain. Look for curcumin formulations with enhanced absorption properties like Cavacurmin®. Some common methods to enhance curcumin absorption are with the addition of piperine, a derivative of black pepper, or through combining the curcumin with a fat preparation which helps your body hold on to the curcumin longer.
- Nakagawa Y, et al. Short-term effects of highly-bioavailable curcumin for treating knee osteoarthritis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled prospective study. J Orthop Sci. 2014 Nov;19(6):933-9. Accessed 25 September 2017.
- Daily JW, et al. Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and Curcumin for Alleviating the Symptoms of Joint Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. J Med Food. 2016 Aug;19(8):717-29. Accessed 25 September 2017.
- Chin KY. The spice for joint inflammation: anti-inflammatory role of curcumin in treating osteoarthritis. Drug Des Devel Ther. 2016 Sep 20;10:3029-42. Accessed 25 September 2017.
- Funk JL, et al. Efficacy and mechanism of action of turmeric supplements in the treatment of experimental arthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2006 Nov;54(11):3452-64.
Last Updated: May 7, 2020
Originally Published: October 20, 2017