Turmeric for Osteoarthritis

Turmeric - What You Need to Know

Turmeric in root and powder form.
Turmeric in root and powder form. Maximilian Stock Ltd./Getty Images

One of the natural remedies that have been explored for use in arthritis is turmeric, a yellow spice. Turmeric is related to ginger. It is used often in curry dishes and is a common ingredient in other Indian food. It is regarded as a digestive aid in those cuisines. It has also been used traditionally in Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine for arthritis.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a perennial shrub that grows five to six feet tall. It is primarily found in India and Indonesia, though it grows in other tropical regions as well. Turmeric is characteristically fragrant but bitter to taste. Turmeric roots are dried and ground into a yellow powder that is used in foods and also as a natural fabric dye and for medicinal purposes.

How Do They Think Turmeric Works for Arthritis>

The chemical in turmeric that its proponents say has the claimed effects is curcumin. Preliminary studies suggest that the anti-inflammatory effects are derived from curcumin.

Turmeric reportedly has the ability to reduce inflammation. It is presumed that because of the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric, it may help relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions such as bursitis.

Do Studies Support the Use of Turmeric for Arthritis?

Some small studies found improvement of pain and function with turmeric supplements for patients with knee osteoarthritis. Researchers stop short of recommending turmeric for medical conditions, though, because so few clinical trials have been conducted. It would take larger, well-controlled studies to support recommending it for this use.

How is Turmeric Available to Use as a Supplement?

Despite the lack of evidence to support its use, some people are interested in turmeric as a supplement. It is available in powder-containing capsules (400 - 600 mg taken three times a day), fluid extract, and tincture. Curcumin is in low concentration in turmeric, so it is important to check the standardized amount of curcumin in any supplement.

What Are the Precautions and Warnings for Turmeric?

Turmeric is considered safe when found in foods or at recommended doses. Large doses of turmeric have been associated with stomach upset and ulcers. People with gallbladder disease, bile duct obstruction, or diabetes are urged to discuss turmeric with a doctor before starting to take it.

You should not use turmeric as a supplement if you take drugs that:

  • act as blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin)
  • reduce stomach acid
  • lower blood sugars

Bottom Line on Turmeric

Discuss turmeric with your doctor before using the supplement. Go over all of your medications and supplements, and decide together if the benefit outweighs the risk. It is especially important to note the possible drug interactions with turmeric and curcumin supplements, as many people with osteoarthritis have conditions where they take the drugs most prone to interactions. Before you start taking turmeric or a supplement that contains curcumin, you need to make that call to your doctor. It is a good practice to review any supplements with your doctor and pharmacist at each appointment or when refilling a prescription.

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Article Sources

  • Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases. Supplements. Arthritis Foundation. Thirteenth Edition.
  • Turmeric, Arthritis Foundation, accessed 12/30/15.
  • Turmeric. NCCAM. June 2008.
  • Turmeric. University of Maryland Medical Center. Accessed 12/31/2009.