Turmeric can reduce pain, joint swelling, and stiffness and improve function in those osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. Curcumin in turmeric has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that inhibit inflammatory pathways in the body, lower oxidative stress, prevent cartilage damage, and aid cartilage regeneration.
You may know turmeric as an oriental spice that gives Asian food color and flavor, but did you know it has an illustrious history of use in traditional medicine as a remedy for everything from wounds and acne to bronchitis and arthritis? The basis for these uses lies in turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties, mostly attributed to a chemical called curcumin.
Arthritis is an umbrella term for disorders of the joints. Of the nearly 100 types of arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout are the most common. While the symptoms for all three are pain and stiffness, the causes are different. While osteoarthritis is caused by an age-related wear and tear of the cartilage in the joints, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition. Gout or gouty arthritis is caused by the accumulation of urate crystals in the joints due to high levels of uric acid in the body. Research shows that it’s beneficial to use turmeric for arthritis since this herb sometimes works as efficiently as standard drugs.1
1. Reduces Joint Pain And Swelling
Curcumin in turmeric is known to possess potent anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. In a pilot clinical study on patients of rheumatoid arthritis, patients were either given 500 mg curcumin, or 50 mg diclofenac sodium, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or a combination of the two. The patients in the curcumin group showed the maximum improvement in terms of number of swollen joints, levels of inflammation markers in the blood, pain, and function.2
Another study on people with osteoarthritis saw a face-off between turmeric and ibuprofen. Those who took a 2 gm dose of turmeric every day reported lower pain levels while climbing stairs than those who took the ibuprofen. The pain level while walking improved as did knee function.3
2. Suppresses Inflammation
Inflammation is the root cause of the pain experienced in all forms of arthritis. Many studies have proved that curcumin can activate the antioxidant defense system within the cell and lead to the release of antioxidants and proteins that protect the cell and help in detoxification. It also helps suppress the production as well as action of pro-inflammatory cytokines (proteins), enzymes, and other inflammatory mediators. By thwarting their activity, turmeric can ease inflammation.4 5 This anti-inflammatory property of turmeric helps in preventing diverse inflammatory conditions from oestoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis to diabetes and even cancer.
Curcumin also blocks the function of free radical-generating enzymes like COX, LOX, xanthine dehydrogenase, and iNOS. Another inflammatory cytokine involved in rheumatoid arthritis is interleukin-12 (IL-12), and turmeric has been found to inhibit IL-12 and thus help in autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and myocarditis.6 7
3. Prevents Cartilage Degradation And Protects Cartilage
Another big benefit of turmeric? The curcumin in it has a protective effect on the body’s cartilage. The wearing down of the cartilage is central to the progression of osteoarthritis. By preventing joint cartilage degeneration, curcumin can help ease symptoms and may even slow down the worsening of your condition.
Curcumin is also said to reduce cartilage inflammation – a problem experienced in rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis – and boost the activity of chondrocytes that are responsible for creating and maintaining the cartilage matrix.8 Treatment with curcumin may, therefore, help regenerate cartilage by creating the right environment.9
4. Can Prevent And Fight Gout
Turmeric can bring down high levels of uric acid, which causes a painful condition called gout. Curcumin lowers uric acid levels by inhibiting the enzyme xanthine oxidase which catalyzes the transformation of xanthine into uric acid.10 In one study with patients of non-alocholic fatty liver disorder, curcumin could bring down the levels of uric acid as well as the harmful LDL cholesterol.11 In another study, researchers also looked at the effect of a purified curcumin extract on symptoms of gout and found that 17 out of 19 patients noticed improvement within 48 hours. In the same study, 41 out of 62 patients of fibromyalgia also showed improvement.12
5. Fights Oxidative Stress Associated With Arthritis
Oxidative stress has a role to play in the way your osteoarthritis plays out and progresses. Which is why antioxidant supplements are being explored as potential alternatives or as additional therapy for managing conditions like knee osteoarthritis. Of the variety of antioxidant supplements on the market, curcumin has shown a significant effect on function and pain relief.13
One piece of research studied the effect of turmeric in countering the effects of oxidative stress on people with mild to moderate osteoarthritis. The subjects took 1500 mg of curcuminoid capsules a day, along with piperine to improve the bioavailability of the turmeric compounds in the body. After 6 weeks, it was found that systemic oxidative stress had eased. The researchers were able to confirm that the antioxidant effect of the natural remedy may help relieve osteoarthritis symptoms.14
6. Works As Adjuvant Therapy With Other Anti-Arthritic Treatments
While the benefits of turmeric on its own are reason enough to give this remedy a closer look, some evidence also suggests it could improve quality of life and provide better pain relief for patients on other medication. In one instance, patients who were already taking 75 mg of diclofenac sodium to manage their knee osteoarthritis were given 1000 mg of curcuminoids daily along with their regular medication. And while there was no statistically significant difference overall, the group that took the curcuminoids tended to have better results on function in daily living as well as pain.15 So even if you do not go all out with turmeric, you could try it alongside your other treatments to manage arthritis.
How Much Turmeric To Have
If you have osteoarthritis, limit intake in capsule form to no more than 400 to 600 mg thrice daily. Alternatively, if you’re using the powdered root in herbal remedies or cooking, be sure to have not more than 3 gm a day. A typical amount would be 0.5 to 1 gm, on average. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, a 500 mg dose taken twice a day will suffice. However, these are just indicative numbers from the Arthritis Foundation.16 You should consult a trained medical practitioner or naturopath for your individual case. Whatever the amount you consume, always buy the powder, root, or medication from a credible source. Be wary of unverified online sites where the purity of the product may be questionable.
Incorporate turmeric tea into your daily routine to protect against inflammation. Simply steep the root in warm water or boil the powder with water and sweeten with honey. You could also try a “golden milk” using a similar method but with milk or nondairy milk. Alternatively, add some to your meals. It blends seamlessly into soups and stews and even smoothies. Turmeric can also be paired with other anti-inflammatory foods like ginger or black pepper.
Turmeric Side Effects To Watch Out For
If you decide to try turmeric to treat or prevent arthritis, here is what you should know about adverse effects. Having very high quantities of it – medicinal doses as opposed to dietary amounts – can have some unpleasant side effects. The spice is a blood thinner – this can be a problem if you are already taking a blood thinner, and risky if you are pregnant, have gallbladder disease, or are scheduled to have surgery soon. Hypoglycemia is another possible risk for those who are diabetic and already on medication for lowering blood sugar. For others, a milder side effect and a sign that you’re having too much is a stomach upset. Some tend to develop ulcers as well, so make sure the herb agrees with you.17