Turmeric and Arthritis

In Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine, turmeric is often used in preparations and tonics for arthritis. Modern science has confirmed that turmeric is indeed able to alleviate the symptoms of both osteoarthritis as well as rheumatoid arthritis - without the side effects of common anti-inflammatory drugs. Learn how this is achieved and how to take turmeric supplements for arthritis.

Arthritis is a disease, which affects joints in one or more parts of the body.  People suffering from arthritis complain of painful joints and difficulties in moving. Those with advanced arthritis also experience muscle weakness and loss of flexibility.

There are different types of treatments available for different kinds of arthritis. These treatments range from oral medications to joint surgery. Most medications available for arthritis fight inflammation and reduce pain.

There are 2 common types of arthritis:

  • osteoarthritis
  • rheumatoid arthritis

Curcumin can be used effectively for both these types of arthritis. We'll discuss both of them and the way curcumin helps with these conditions later on in the article.

How does turmeric (curcumin) work for arthritis

The bright yellow Asian spice, turmeric, is known in Chinese and Indian traditional medicine as an effective cure for arthritis, along with other kinds of diseases. The substance responsible for this is its most important active ingredient – curcumin.

In modern day, studies and research evidence suggest that this ancient healing tradition has, in fact, a scientific basis. Curcumin in turmeric has the ability to reduce the different symptoms of arthritis, including arthritis joint pain, inflammation, and stiffness related to arthritis.

This effect is possibly caused by curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties and its protective effects on cartilage. The anti-inflammatory effect of curcumin has been shown to be on par with powerful NSAID drugs, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines, such as Motrin (Ibuprofen). What makes curcumin different from these drugs is that it has no known toxicity, while most pharmaceutical medicines are associated with significant toxic effects.

NSAIDs or Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs are commonly used to reduce pain, fever, and inflammation.

Although NSAIDs are helpful for a number of diseases, they have several side effects:

  • NSAIDs have been known to cause increased risk of serious cardiovascular conditions, such as heart attack and stroke. The risk increases the longer you are on this kind of medication.

  • NSAIDs may increase your risk of having severe gastrointestinal diseases, such as ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, and perforation of the stomach or intestines. These complications can be fatal, and they occur anytime while on medication. Sometimes, they occur without warning symptoms. Elderly people should be cautious when using NSAIDs as they are at greater risk of getting serious gastrointestinal problems.

1. Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is also known as arthrosis or osteoarthrosis. Some other terms are degenerative joint disease or wear and tear. This joint disease affects millions of people all over the world, especially elderly people.

Over time, the cartilage on the ends of the bones that protects them from friction, wears down. The cartilage gradually roughens and becomes thin, while the bone underneath thickens. When this happens, the tissues within the joint become more active, as if they’re trying to repair the damage:

  • Osteophytes are formed. These are bony spurs formed when the edge of the bones grow outwards.

  • Swelling may happen when the synovium or the inner layer of the joint capsule which produces synovial fluid thickens and produces excess fluid.

  • In time, the capsule and ligaments (tough bands that hold the joint together) thicken and contract, which may be caused by an effort to make your joint more stable.

Osteoarthritis most commonly affects joints in your hands, neck, lower back, knees, and hips, but it can damage any other joint in the body.

Osteoarthritis and Curcumin

Research has shown that curcumin could be a safe and effective alternative treatment for osteoarthritis.

Various studies have shown that:

  • Curcumin reduces swelling and pain related to inflammation

According to some studies, bioavailable or enhanced curcumin decreases serum indicators of inflammation (CRP) and perceived pain of patients with knee osteoarthritis (1), (2).

  • Curcumin increases mobility of patients with osteoarthritis (2).

  • Curcumin is just as effective as NSAIDs, but without the harmful side effects associated with these drugs.

A study compared the effect of curcumin and the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID Ibuprofen (3). They found out that curcumin worked as well as Ibuprofen in treating osteoarthritis pain and inflammation, while having fewer side effects. Gastrointestinal problems were significantly fewer with the use of curcumin.

  • Curcumin reduces cartilage inflammation and protects chondrocytes or cartilage cells from degradation (4), (5).

2. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Another type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. This is a chronic inflammatory disorder that usually affects the small joints in the hands and feet. Unlike osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear-and-tear, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of the joints, which causes a painful swelling. Eventually, this may result in bone erosion and bone deformity.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. We have a natural defense system in our body called the immune system. This is the system responsible for seeking out and destroying organisms and substances that may be harmful to us. Autoimmune diseases develop when our immune system starts attacking our own tissues, mistaking them for foreign invaders.

Those suffering from autoimmune diseases have antibodies in their blood that attack certain tissues in their body, which leads to inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis develops when the immune system of a patient attacks the lining of the joints, which make them swell or become inflamed.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that can start at any age, but in most cases, it starts after 40. It is also more common in women than in men.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Curcumin

According to in vitro and human studies, curcumin may be a safe natural remedy for treating rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory effect

Human synovial fibroblast cells are unique cells that play a key role in rheumatoid arthritis. In vitro studies reported that curcumin has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect on these cells (6), (10).

  • Curcumin showed better results than conventional drugs at relieving the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

A study comparing the effects of curcumin and diclofenac sodium in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis showed that those receiving curcumin had more significant improvement than those receiving diclofenac sodium. This effect was seen in the reduction of swelling and joint tenderness. Also, the group receiving curcumin reported no adverse side effects (7).

  • Curcumin has protective effect on the cartilage, which can be further improved when combined with resveratrol.

Synergetic effects of curcumin and resveratrol on cartilage protection were seen in an in vitro study done in Munich. These two compounds work by activating a pathway that is important for the maintenance of chondrocyte (cartilage cells) differentiation and survival, which is the MEK/Erk signaling (8).

  • Curcumin induces cell death and hinders the development of synovial fibroblasts

In rheumatoid arthritis characterized by hyperplasia of the synovial fibroblasts, curcumin causes apoptosis or cell death in synovial fibroblasts (9).

How to Take Curcumin for Arthritis

Typical dose for both osteoarthritis as well as rheumatoid arthritis is about 500 mgs of curcumin per day. Curcumin is best absorbed on an empty stomach, so take it before meal or at least 3 hours after you have last eaten.

To learn possible side effects of curcumin supplementation and interactions with other supplements and prescription medications, read our article on How to take curcumin.

There are many curcumin supplements that you can choose from. The first thing that you need to be careful of is the percentage of the pure curcumin in the supplement. You need to look for a supplement that has the words 'standardized to 95% of curcumin' written on the label.

To get the most out of your supplement, it is also recommended that you choose a specially formulated curcumin preparation. These supplements use different methods for increasing curcumin absorption. The reason for this is that unprocessed curcumin has a major problem – namely, extremely low biovalability.  

To learn more about special curcumin formulations got to our article: Choosing the right supplement for your needs.

Within this article, you will see that there are for main types of these supplements. Among these, BCM95 and Meriva are most known for their anti-inflammatory action – which means that they are also most suitable for arthritis relief.

  1. Decrease of a specific biomarker of collagen degradation in osteoarthritis, Coll2-1, by treatment with highly bioavailable curcumin during an exploratory clinical trial. Henrotin Y1, Gharbi M, Dierckxsens Y, Priem F, Marty M, Seidel L, Albert A, Heuse E, Bonnet V, Castermans C. 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24886572
  2. Curcuminoid Treatment for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial. Panahi Y1, Rahimnia AR, Sharafi M, Alishiri G, Saburi A, Sahebkar A. 2014 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24853120
  3. Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a multicenter study. Kuptniratsaikul V, Dajpratham P, Taechaarpornkul W, Buntragulpoontawee M, Lukkanapichonchut P, Chootip C, Saengsuwan J, Tantayakom K, Laongpech. 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24672232
  4. Scientific Evidence and Rationale for the Development of Curcumin and Resveratrol as Nutraceutricals for Joint Health. Ali Mobasheri, Yves Henrotin, Hans-Konrad Biesalski, and Mehdi Shakibaei. 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3344210/
  5. Curcumin reduces prostaglandin E2, matrix metalloproteinase-3 and proteoglycan release in the secretome of interleukin 1β-treated articular cartilage.Clutterbuck AL, Allaway D, Harris P, Mobasheri A. 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24555068.2
  6. Anti-inflammatory and apoptotic effects of the polyphenol curcumin on human fibroblast-like synoviocytes. Kloesch B1, Becker T, Dietersdorfer E, Kiener H, Steiner G. 2013. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23347846
  7. A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Chandran B, Goel A. 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22407780
  8. Curcumin synergizes with resveratrol to stimulate the MAPK signaling pathway in human articular chondrocytes in vitro. Shakibaei M1, Mobasheri A, Buhrmann C. 2011 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21484156
  9. Curcumin induces apoptosis and inhibits prostaglandin E(2) production in synovial fibroblasts of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Park C, Moon DO, Choi IW, Choi BT, Nam TJ, Rhu CH, Kwon TK, Lee WH, Kim GY, Choi YH. 2007. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17671742
  10. The antioxidants curcumin and quercetin inhibit inflammatory processes associated with arthritis. Jackson JK1, Higo T, Hunter WL, Burt HM. 2006. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16807698

Supplements commonly used for Arthritis:

Curcumin and Turmeric

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Boswellia Serrata

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Comments (1)

  • Sensitivity

    I have been taking curcumin advanced by fusion health for degenerative arthritis of the spine and shoulders and arms. The capsules were taking the pain away but the side effects have been horrendous, extreme hay fevor and sensitivity to perfumes and a swollen abodomen and little faecal movement. I stopped taking the medication and after 2 weeks the bowel swelling and the sensitivity have reduced by 75 per cent. Am i taking the wrong product or the strenght to high. Please if you can help, the pain relief from the arthritis was amazing. Thank you Colleen

    Oct 09, 2015

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