Throughout history, many herbs and spices have become famous for their medicinal uses. Perhaps none have reached the level of notoriety of turmeric, as it has been a principal healer of Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.
Turmeric contains a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent called curcumin. Derived from the Curcuma longa root, curcuminoids are the primary driver behind many of turmeric’s health benefits. But, can turmeric help relieve arthritis and joint pain?
Turmeric for Arthritis
Since chronic inflammation is a central characteristic of arthritis, it’s essential to note curcumin’s ability to help other inflammatory diseases and conditions. Studies have shown that curcumin is beneficial for both IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) and IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Turmeric can even help reduce the neuroinflammation associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Recent research suggests that curcuminoids, when combined with black pepper, may help relieve the uncomfortable joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and osteoarthritis. To better understand how turmeric works, let’s explore arthritis in a bit more detail. (1)
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a prevalent human condition referring to painful joints characterized by stiffness and swelling, or a joint disease. Over 50 million U.S. adults have arthritis in some form. While it can occur in children and young adults, the older we get, the more likely it becomes.
Severe arthritis can limit your range of motion and make even the simplest activities such as walking or ascending stairs extremely difficult. While it’s possible to limit the damage done by arthritis, if left untreated, it can progress and get worse over time. It may also cause permanent and irreversible changes to your joints.
There are a few types of arthritis that are most common. They are:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: A variety of inflammatory arthritis and autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks itself, leading to uncontrolled inflammation of the joints. Symptoms are typically symmetrical, meaning, if one knee becomes inflamed, both will.
- Osteoarthritis: A type of degenerative arthritis characterized by the erosion of cartilage, causing bone to rub against bone. This condition leads to significant pain, swelling, and joint stiffness.
- Psoriatic Arthritis: Another type of inflammatory arthritis, but is slightly different than rheumatoid arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis may develop shiny, red patches otherwise known as “plaques” on your skin. Indicators of psoriatic are often asymmetric, meaning, if you feel pain in one wrist, the other may be symptom-free.
If you start to feel arthritic symptoms such as joint pain, lack of mobility, and decreased quality of life, it’s important to get it handled right away. Balancing rest with activity, using hot and cold therapies, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory supplements can help move things in the right direction. (2, 3)
Why Turmeric Curcumin?
Remember, a healthy immune system generates internal inflammation to fight off infections or prevent diseases. Sometimes, things can go awry, and your immune system will target the joints causing uncontrollable inflammation and joint erosion.
Curcumin can reduce inflammation and enhance the body’s antioxidant capacity, making the immune system more efficient. This benefit may help lower inflammation, ultimately decreasing joint pain, increasing mobility, and restoring functionality in problematic areas.
We’ve seen turmeric’s positive anti-inflammatory effects demonstrated in many studies regarding back pain, muscle pain, and inflammation related to asthma and allergies. Now, we will review the research as it pertains to arthritis pain relief. More specifically, we’ll cover how turmeric can help rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, osteoarthritis, and joint pain.
Turmeric and Arthritis: Can Curcumin Help Joint Pain Relief?
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
The first study we’ll review assessed turmeric’s antiarthritic properties in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). There were 45 patients randomized into three groups. The groups received either a 500 mg dosage of curcumin, 50 mg diclofenac sodium, or a combination of the two each day.
Patients in all three groups experienced statistically significant improvements in their Disease Activity Score (DAS). However, the curcumin group performed markedly better and showed the highest percentage of recovery.
The curcumin group also showed the highest level of reduction in tenderness and joint swelling as measured by the College of Rheumatology (ACR) score. Most importantly, turmeric was found to be both safe and effective for treating rheumatoid arthritis. (4)
Another randomized and double-blind study tested curcumin’s effectiveness on rheumatoid arthritis in three groups of 12 subjects. The groups received either a placebo or a 250 mg or 500 mg dose of curcumin twice per day for 90 days.
Both groups who received the turmeric supplement demonstrated statistically significant changes in their clinical arthritic symptomology. This study shows that curcumin is an excellent anti-inflammatory agent used for the management of RA, even at lower dosages. (5)
An animal study involving rats tested the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin just before or after the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers found that turmeric profoundly inhibited both joint inflammation and periarticular joint destruction. The treatment also prevented local activation of NF-kappaB, a strong mediator of inflammation. (6, 7)
One study looked at a trademarked combination of curcumin and phosphatidylcholine in dealing with osteoarthritis (OA) symptomology and pain relief. The research involved 50 patients taking 200 mg of curcumin per day over a 3-month treatment period.
Researchers measured the patients based on a treadmill walking distance test and their C-reactive protein (CRP) levels (a measure of inflammatory status). The results of the study showed decreased joint pain and enhanced joint function in the curcumin group. (8)
A secondary trial involving 100 patients with OA tested the long-term efficacy and safety of the same curcumin and phosphatidylcholine combination. Since OA is a chronic condition, prolonged treatment is often required. Again, the results showed substantial improvement in the arthritic condition and excellent tolerability to curcumin. (9)
Even during shorter trials, turmeric shows convincing functional improvement and pain reduction in patients with arthritis. One study tested the efficacy of Curcuma extract on 107 patients suffering from knee osteoarthritis.
The study split the subjects into two groups, one receiving 800 mg of ibuprofen per day while the other supplemented 2 g of curcumin per day for a 6-week treatment period.
The results showed that both groups showed significant improvements in pain relief compared to baseline. Curcumin appears to be similarly efficient and just as safe as ibuprofen for treating osteoarthritis in the knees. (10)
Further animal research examined curcumin’s effects on mice with osteoarthritis. The results found that turmeric successfully suppressed the expression of pro-inflammatory mediators. This anti-inflammatory benefit led to a substantial reduction in OA disease progression in the mice. Although, this particular study was unable to link curcumin to pain relief. (11)
Osteoarthritis is one of the most disabling degenerative diseases. The localized loss of cartilage seen in OA patients can be tough to manage and nearly impossible to reverse.
In most studies, curcuminoids successfully reduced both the inflammation and pain associated with osteoarthritis. While turmeric won’t rebuild cartilage, it does combat inflammation at its source. Thus, you can easily justify the use of curcumin as a complementary treatment for osteoarthritis. (12, 13)
More research confirmed the trend we’re starting to see—turmeric is indeed an excellent anti-inflammatory agent. This next study compared curcumin’s propensity to reduce inflammation against quercetin. The results showed that both antioxidants exhibited inhibitory activity on the inflammatory aspects of arthritis. However, curcumin outperformed quercetin by a small margin. (14)
Oxidative stress is also strongly associated with the progression of osteoarthritis. One group of researchers in a randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled trial tested 40 patients with mild-to-moderate osteoarthritis in the knees. Each patient received 1500 mg of curcumin per day in three separate doses over a 6-week treatment period.
The results indicated that curcumin supplementation significantly reduced systemic oxidative stress in the patients. Therefore, we can conclude that it’s not just turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties that help OA, but also its antioxidant activity. (15)
Turmeric Dosage for Arthritis
How much turmeric should you take per day for arthritis? The studies vary dramatically in this regard. We’ve seen numbers as low as 200 mg of curcumin per day for treating osteoarthritis, and numbers as high as 2,000 mg per day as a recommended dosage. Though both studies yielded impressive outcomes for arthritis and joint pain relief.
In past articles, we’ve also seen dosages up to 8,000 mg per day without adverse side effects or treatment-related toxicity. Depending on symptom severity, you should always start with a lower dosage, around 200 mg of curcumin per day, assess your results, and titrate upwards based on your needs.
Final Thoughts on Turmeric Benefits for Arthritis and Joint Pain
Is turmeric good for arthritis and joint pain? The answer appears to be, yes. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and antioxidant. Its curcuminoid content may help control the symptoms and flare-ups associated with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and osteoarthritis.
We haven’t seen many studies testing turmeric on psoriatic arthritis. But, its similarities with other inflammatory forms of arthritis (rheumatoid), suggest that you may achieve similar success by using curcumin for psoriatic pain.
If you need a way to reduce swelling and stiffness, improve joint mobility, and enhance your quality of life, turmeric and black pepper may be a good complementary treatment for your arthritis. As always, please consult with a doctor or certified medical professional and ask if curcumin can improve your situation.