It’s not uncommon for people with arthritis to want to try a dietary supplement as an alternative treatment or as part of their treatment regimen. But which one? There are several supplements that may have beneficial effects. Turmeric is one of the supplements that can potentially help to manage arthritis symptoms.
What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric (Curcuma longa, Curcuma domestica) is a 5- to 6-foot tall perennial shrub, primarily found in India, Indonesia, and other tropical regions. Turmeric, which is bitter to taste, belongs to the ginger family. The roots are dried to a yellow powder so they can be used in foods and fabric dye and for medicinal purposes. Among the medicinal purposes, it is believed that turmeric (whose active ingredient is curcumin) has anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for inflammatory conditions.
Studies Suggest Anti-Inflammatory Effect
In study results published in the November 2006 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, researchers who had previously demonstrated that turmeric can prevent joint inflammation in rats expanded their study in an effort to determine the effect and mechanism of turmeric on arthritis. They started by comparing the composition of a turmeric extract they prepared to commercially available turmeric dietary supplements, adjusted the dosage, and administered it intraperitoneally to female rats. Results revealed that a turmeric fraction depleted of essential oils inhibited joint inflammation and periarticular joint destruction. Local activation of NF-kappaB and expression of NF-kappaB-regulated genes (chemokines, cyclooxygenase-2, and RANKL) that mediate joint inflammation and destruction was prevented. The extract also blocked the pathway for bone resorption related to bone loss. Researchers concluded that the findings supported further research to assess turmeric dietary supplements as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
Another research article published in the January-February 2013 issue of Biofactors also described how curcumin affects inflammation by the down-regulation of inflammatory transcription factors, cytokines, redox status, protein kinases, and enzymes, all of which promote inflammation.
What about turmeric for osteoarthritis? A study published in 2009 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine compared 2 grams of turmeric daily to 800 mg of ibuprofen daily for 6 weeks in study participants with primary knee osteoarthritis. Results showed that both the turmeric group and the ibuprofen group had improved pain levels when walking and climbing stairs. However, those taking turmeric had greater improvement with pain levels when climbing stairs than the ibuprofen group. Side effects were similar, with heartburn and dizziness being the most commonly reported. Interestingly, study participants taking ibuprofen were more compliant with the treatment than those taking turmeric.
According to the advocacy and research group Versus Arthritis, human clinical trials have not found turmeric to be toxic or unsafe in daily doses of between 1-10 grams. However, there is a note of caution offered. High doses of turmeric can have a blood-thinning effect. In laboratory studies, turmeric increased the effects of anticoagulants or anti-platelet drugs. The effect of turmeric on anti-platelet drugs in humans is not known, however.
Turmeric can also cause stomach upset. The supplement should be avoided in patients with gallstones and by those who take blood thinners.
Turmeric is high in oxalates and should be used with caution in those with a history of calcium oxalate kidney stones. However, curcumin, the plant’s active constituent, does not come with this risk.