People with arthritis find themselves in a difficult situation. Trying to stay active and enjoy life when your joints hurt is a huge challenge. On the other hand, most of the medications such as NSAIDs that could be used to alleviate joint pain have unpleasant side effects, particularly over the long term. It is no wonder people are looking for alternatives. Could you use turmeric or other natural anti-inflammatory products? Some readers have already tried this natural approach, while others are wondering if it would be wise.
Could You Use Turmeric to Delay Hip Surgery?
Q. I was suffering from arthritis when I read your column about the value of turmeric. I bought some at the local pharmacy and the pain went away almost at once. Consequently, I put off the hip replacement a doctor was only too eager to schedule.
A man from India owns my neighborhood gas station. When he asked me what I did to be able to walk so much better, I told him about the turmeric. Later, a lady who works at the pharmacy told me that suddenly four people had come in to get turmeric there. Can you tell me anything more about it?
A. Turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin are familiar to practitioners of centuries-old healing practices such as Ayurvedic medicine. We suspect that your neighbor from India has probably heard of this spice, which is common in Indian food. Over the past few decades, scientists have been considering the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin and related compounds.
One review of clinical trials in people with osteoarthritis found that those taking curcumin had less pain and better quality of life (Drug Design, Development and Therapy, Sep. 20, 2016). They also used less pain medication. Overall, a systematic review found that people taking curcumin products reported less pain and stiffness than those on placebo (Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 2021).
Might You Use Turmeric for Arthritic Joints?
Q. What are your views on turmeric for arthritis? What is the appropriate dosage?
A. Many readers have reported that turmeric helps their joint pain. We appreciate testimonials, but we really value research that can corroborate or explain it. Consequently, we were excited to read a study published recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine (online Sept. 15, 2020). Australian researchers carried out a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial using an extract of turmeric. Over the course of three months, 70 volunteers took two capsules daily of extract (500 mg each, 1000 mg total) or look-alike placebo. By the end of the study, people taking turmeric reported less pain and stiffness. MRIs of the knee joints did not show any structural changes, however. An Australian herbal products company provided the extract, Turmacin Plus.
Japanese scientists also published results of a recent clinical trial of a turmeric product called Theracurmin® (Clinical Medicine Insights. Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Disorders, Aug. 12, 2020). They were following up on an earlier study with an open-labeled trial. Experts consider this type of research less powerful than the gold-standard double-blind placebo-controlled study. The 50 volunteers in this study took 180 mg of Theracurmin daily, a product with excellent bioavailability, for six months.
In summary, the investigators concluded:
“Theracurmin showed great potential for the treatment of human knee osteoarthritis based on efficacy and safety findings.”
Improving Turmeric Absorption:
Q.I would like to use turmeric for its anti-inflammatory effects. Should I take turmeric with olive oil for better absorption? Does it matter?
A. Turmeric, an underground stem from a plant called Curcuma longa, has a wide range of potential health benefits. Regular use could potentially improve cardiovascular and brain health, prevent respiratory diseases and infection and even reduce the risk of certain cancers (Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, Sep. 2021). People do not absorb it very well, however.
Turmeric is fat soluble. As a result, taking it with a bit of olive oil or any other fat will help its absorption. Coconut oil, nuts or nut butter, yogurt or avocado could all serve this purpose.
According to ConsumerLab.com, turmeric works better if taken twice rather than once a day. Unfortunately, we don’t have much research to guide us in evaluating just how much of a difference these suggestions might make.
Earlier Research on How to Use Turmeric:
An earlier review of clinical trials found that turmeric-based products were better than placebo and about as effective as NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen (Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, Jan. 2017). A review of anti-oxidant supplements for knee osteoarthritis found reasonable evidence for products derived from turmeric as well as avocado derivatives (Nutrition Journal, online Jan. 5, 2016).
One study that showed benefit compared 1500 mg of turmeric extract to 1200 mg of ibuprofen per day (Clinical Interventions in Aging, online March 20, 2014). The researchers prepared the extract themselves to provide 250 mg of curcuminoids per dose. The active ingredient in turmeric is believed to be curcumin or curcuminoid compounds.
Shopping for a Curcumin Product:
Since products vary, you will want to look for one that provides 1000 to 1500 mg per day. We suggest you check ConsumerLab.com before you shop, however, to look for a brand that actually delivers what is promised on the label. About a third of the products that were tested did not come up to quality standards.
One research team used a proprietary product called Longvida® to treat pain and inflammation induced by exercise in muscles rather than joints (BBA Clinical, online Feb. 18, 2016). The dose used was 400 mg/day. In a subsequent review, Spanish scientists found 11 studies supporting the benefits of curcumin at a dose of 150 to 1500 mg per day (Nutrients, Feb. 15, 2020).
Side Effects of Turmeric:
It is important to remember that turmeric or its active component curcumin are not appropriate for everyone. Some people react with a severe skin rash signaling an allergy. Others find that such supplements cause digestive distress and don’t tolerate them for that reason.
Anyone who is taking warfarin (Coumadin) must not use turmeric or curcumin, as they could increase the anti-clotting effect. It is possible that this interaction might also affect other anticoagulants, such as clopidogrel (Plavix) or even aspirin.
Turmeric might also lower blood sugar. People taking oral anti-diabetes medicines should monitor their blood sugar closely in case it drops too low as a result of this interaction.
People who are susceptible to kidney stones might wish to consider another approach to easing joint inflammation besides turmeric. It is high in soluble oxalate, which can increase the possibility of kidney stone formation (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May, 2008).
We are sending you our Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis, which discusses turmeric and other botanical medicines as well as drugs. To learn more about turmeric and other healing herbs you may want to read our book, Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life.