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Turmeric May Be a Solution For Osteoarthritis Knee Pain, Study Finds

Woman serving turmeric milk latte

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Key Takeaways

  • Osteoarthritis of the knee can be painful, and some traditional treatment is associated with negative side effects.
  • A new study shows taking 1,000 mg of turmeric daily for 12 weeks may provide relief.
  • Turmeric contains many beneficial properties. Introducing the plant into your diet may be useful for your overall health.

If you suffer from arthritic knee pain, researchers have found that taking daily turmeric supplements may reduce your discomfort. 

In a study published on September 15 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers evaluated 70 people who suffered from knee osteoarthritis. Researchers found those that the 36 participants who took 1,000 milligrams (mg) of turmeric each day for 12 weeks reported better pain outcomes than the 34 people who took a placebo. However, no difference in the structural aspects of osteoarthritis, like cartilage composition or swelling, was observed.

“While the sample size in this study was a bit small, I do not see a downside with adding turmeric into one’s diet,” Brittany Scanniello, RD, a Colorado-based registered dietitian, tells Verywell. 

What This Means For You

If you suffer from pain associated with osteoarthritis of the knee, taking turmeric supplements daily may provide some relief. However, more well-designed studies are needed to make a strong recommendation.

What Is Turmeric?

You may know turmeric as a popular spice that gives curry its flavor and golden lattes their vibrant color. Turmeric is a plant touted as a superfood, and consuming the root—most popularly in soups and smoothies—is linked to many benefits. Its supplement form continues to gain popularity as well. In fact, turmeric sales increased by 30.5% between 2017 and 2018, accounting for about $93.3 million in the United States.

“Turmeric has been traditionally used as a dye, a spice, and as an anti-inflammatory remedy in both Indian and Chinese medicine, “ Pinkey Patel, PharmD, NASM-CPT, doctor of pharmacy and founder of The Snapback postpartum app, tells Verywell.

Patel points out that curcumin, a compound which makes up about 5% of the spice, carries a number of health properties. It is considered:

  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-inflammation
  • Anti-cancer
  • Anti-diabetic
  • Anti-allergic
  • Anti-dermatophyte
  • Hepatoprotective
  • Neuroprotective

However, Patel hesitates to make a blanket statement suggesting turmeric as a cure-all because the bioavailability and metabolism of this compound are dependent on many factors. One person may take it and experience amazing results, while the other may experience nothing.

What is Bioavailability?

Bioavailability refers to the degree and rate at which a substance, such as a drug, is absorbed into the body, and is able to have an active effect.

Scanniello echoes these concerns.

"It is critical to note that turmeric has relatively poor bioavailability in humans—about 85% may pass through the GI tract," she says. "Formulations such as turmeric-fenugreek, turmeric-black pepper, or [turmeric] eaten with fat have shown to increase turmeric absorption and further support its beneficial properties."

Even though turmeric is "natural," you should discuss whether it is a good solution for your own personal needs with your healthcare provider before taking it. In people who are pregnant or consistently suing anticoagulation medication, turmeric may come with some unwanted side effects, like risk to pregnancy or increased bleeding.

Turmeric and Pain Relief for Knee Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis of the knee can be extremely painful and occurs when cartilage wears down to the point that the shin, thigh, and kneecap bones rub together. Pain from osteoarthritis is an important precursor to disability and often is a key reason for seeking out medical care. Since common remedies used to manage osteoarthritis pain like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can have adverse side effects, having an alternative is a welcome antidote. 

“Something not many people know is turmeric’s ability to act as an analgesic, or natural pain reliever," Scanniello says. "Turmeric does this by its ability to inhibit certain pain-causing enzymes in our bodies from expressing themselves, similar to the mechanism of action of some over-the-counter pain relievers."

The findings of this current study, as well as others, suggest that consistent intake of turmeric (specifically curcumin) in clinical doses may result in pain relief with minimal side effects in most populations. However, most of the studies conducted on the link between turmeric and pain relief are small in sample size, and more research is needed. 

Along with its sample size, this most recent study design only had a short time for follow-up with patients and was conducted in a single research center. Additionally, funding was provided by a company that produces turmeric-containing products. 

However, if you are one of the many suffering from knee osteoarthritis, exploring turmeric supplementation or adding the spice to your foods in adequate quantities may be a positive step for pain relief. Golden turmeric latte, anyone? 

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