Turmeric: The Key to Inflammatory & Arthritis Pain?

This common cooking spice can be used as a supplement to help ease inflammation and improve overall joint and muscle health.


Turmeric, the yellow powder ground from the root of a plant that grows in India and other parts of Asia and Central America, is related to the ginger plant. It contains the chemical curcumin, which has been traditionally used in South Asian Ayurvedic medicine as an antioxidant and cleansing digestive aid.

You can take turmeric as a supplement or consume the substance as it is typically used in Asian and Indian food and curry-inspired dishes. Turmeric is also often used in products such as sauces, cheese, chips, and even tea.

Use as a Pain Preventive

Low doses, usually one 500 mg capsule of turmeric daily, can have many benefits for those without diagnosed health conditions. In addition to offering antioxidant properties toward overall health, one of its most significant properties is use as an anti-inflammatory agent. A small amount introduced to the diet has been shown to be beneficial to anyone who wants to be proactive in preventing discomfort, such as muscle soreness after exercise.

Source: 123RFCurcumin, found in turmeric, may be useful in preventing and relieving inflammatory and other types of pain.

Use in Relieving InflammatoryPain & Other Conditions

While many patients are prescribed anti-inflammatory medications to relieve symptoms of chronic pain, long-term use sometimes cannot be sustained due to side effects on the immune system as well as cardiovascular and gastrointestinal complications. Herbal therapies like turmeric offer a great way to supplement those medications with fewer side effects.

Studies have shown that patients diagnosed with conditions caused by inflammation, such as osteoarthritis, have seen improvement in pain, overall function, and quality of life when using the product.

Other uses for turmeric include treating liver and digestive problems. The substance has also shown to be effective in reducing skin irritation resulting from radiation treatments for breast cancer. Ongoing preliminary studies are looking at using curcumin as a possible treatment for other cancers and diabetes, as well as an aid in reducing cholesterol.

Choosing the Right Product and Dosage

Turmeric is available as a capsule, tablet, or as an extract, the latter of which is more likely to be free of contaminants. The typical dose used to relieve pain due to inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis is between 400 and 600 mg, three times a day. It can also be prescribed at 500 mg, twice daily, but should not go above 2,000 mg a day.

Dr. Srinivas R. Nalamachu, founder and medical director of the Mid America PolyClinic and a PPM Editorial Advisor, says he recommends patients start out with just one dose of 500 mg a day to see if it is tolerated, and gradually increase the dosage from there. Some individuals experience mild nausea or stomach upset when using turmeric. In the absence of any undesired side effects, the supplement can be taken over a long period of time.

Individuals interested in trying turmeric should do their homework before purchasing the supplement to be sure that the product has enough curcumin in it. It may be sold as “turmeric powder,” “turmeric root,” “turmeric curcumin,” and other similar names. Curcumin only makes up about 3 to 5 percent of the turmeric plant and about 10 percent of most quality turmeric supplements on the market, according to Dr. Nalamachu. He suggests reading the labels of the product you are considering to be sure about how much curcumin you’ll be getting.

It’s also important to check the other ingredients in those supplements. Sreekant Cherukuri, MD, a clinical assistant professor at Indiana University School of Medicine, points out that turmeric powder by itself is unlikely to provide any health benefit. “Recent studies have shown that up to 60% of the supplement products on the market aren’t absorbed the way they are formulated,” he explains.

Studies suggest that combining the spice with piperine, found in black pepper, can increase the amount of curcumin that is absorbed by the body by up to 2,000%.

Dr. Cherukuri says supplements have to be formulated in a certain way to be properly absorbed by the body. They can be paired with a black pepper extract as noted above but making them fat-soluble also increases effectiveness. “The [turmeric] supplement must have adequate concentration, with curcumin as the primary ingredient and contain an ingredient such as sunflower oil to make it fat soluble and therefore better absorbed by the body,” according to Dr. Cherukuri. He recommends Boscumin, which contains curcumin, sunflower oil, and boswellia, which is another anti-inflammatory found in the sap of a tree that grows in India.

Dr. Nalamachu adds that it is also important to buy supplements from a reputable company or store. Most major chains have enough quality control in their product line that patients can feel confident in their products.

If you’re interested in giving turmeric a try, but are apprehensive about the taste, which can be pungent or bitter, Dr. Nalamachu says it’s okay to be creative. “Combining the powder with honey or ginger, for taste and to improve absorption, in hot water is one option.”

Turmeric powder is also available as a paste that can be applied topically for certain skin conditions.

Be Aware of Drug Interactions

Turmeric is generally considered safe when taken as recommended. However, patients should also be aware that in high doses, turmeric can act as a blood thinner, so it should be avoided if you are taking blood thinners, are having surgery, or are pregnant. There has been some reported research on turmeric reducing the tolerance to and effectiveness of opioids, so be sure to speak to your doctor if you are on opioid therapy and considering trying turmeric. Prolonged use of curcumin may also result in gastrointestinal problems. As always, consult your physician before adding any supplement to your dietary regimen.



Updated on: 01/28/19
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