Turmeric for joint pain (arthritis) and inflammation. Does it work?
Overview of joints
Up until recent times, bone and joint-related problems such as arthritis, brittle bones, and back problems were considered to be normal and acceptable with old age. However, more research, better diets, and medicine have presented ways of treating and even preventing some of these problems associated with joints.
Our bones, just like the skin are made up of different layers; cortical (compact) bone and trabecular (cancellous) bone. The cortical bone forms the outer layer or the protective “hard shell” and accounts for about 80% of the weight of the skeleton whereas the trabecular bone is the spongy part located inside the bone where the bone marrow and blood vessels are. This section is typically light and porous and makes up the remaining 20% of the skeleton weight.
Men’s bones are generally bigger and denser than that of women and as a result, men are generally less likely to suffer from joint-related conditions like osteoarthritis. This is because men in their 50s do not experience the same rate of rapid loss of bone mass as women do in the years following menopause. Bones become more fragile and more likely to fracture when it has undergone excessive bone loss.
When two or more bones meet, a joint is formed. Most joints are mobile which allows the bones to move. The components of a joint are;
- Synovial membrane
- Synovial fluid
Some causes of Joint Pain
Joint injury – Injuries that result from events such as car accidents or sports may lead to joint pain
Repetitive Motion Injury – Joints that are repeatedly stressed in the same way are more likely to experience pain. Examples of such repetitive motion are ballet dancers, assembly line workers, and drivers.
Bone Disease – A medical condition such as Paget’s disease may affect the bone structure, making it more susceptible to fracture or develop joint pain.
Excess body weight – We put additional stress on the joints (knees, hips, and ankles) with every additional weight we put on. For example, osteoarthritis of the knee has been linked to excess body weight.
Maintaining healthy bones and joints
Dealing with bone loss and joint pain requires a conscious effort. Taking care of it in your early or younger years can go a long way in reducing or preventing any complications you may have in your older years. Three ways of maintaining healthy joints are exercising regularly, eating healthy diets, and taking supplements.
Exercising Regularly – Regular exercises are proven to help the joints but it is also important to note that certain exercises cause stress on the bones and joints. High-impact exercises such as jumping rope or jogging may not be very helpful for the joints especially for those with osteoporosis. These forms of exercise can cause stress on the bones and joints and also may increase your risk of fractures.
Healthy diets and taking supplements – The body receives nutrients and vitamins needed to support the joints and bones from two primary means; the food we eat and through the use of supplements. Your best option of receiving these vitamins and nutrients is through fresh whole foods. Foods such as broccoli, canned fish, eggs, soybeans, and kale are good sources of calcium that will help support healthy bones. In situations where whole foods are not available, the use of supplements can help fill any vitamin and nutrient gaps you may have.
5 best supplements for joint pain
What is turmeric
Turmeric is a plant of the ginger family that is widely available throughout tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It is very popular and widely cultivated in Asian countries, mainly China and India. Turmeric, also known as “Indian saffron” has been around for ages dating as far back as 4000 bc. It’s uses cuts across many purposes such as a dye, condiment, and as medicine.
In India, for example, almost no meal is complete without the use of turmeric as an ingredient. It is applied as a colouring material and also as a flavouring agent. Indian curries get its bright yellow colour from turmeric as well as its characteristic fragrance and a slightly acrid taste. In Thailand, fresh turmeric is grated and added to curry dishes.
Turmeric is known to contain about 69.4% carbohydrates, 6.3% protein, 5.1% fat, 3.5% minerals, and 13.1% moisture. Turmeric is also made up of curcumin which makes up about 3-4% of its constituents. Curcumin is responsible for giving turmeric its yellowish color.
Uses of Turmeric
Turmeric has been used in traditional medicine for ages. In parts of Asia, it has been used as a home remedy for illnesses such as coughs, diabetic wounds, sinusitis and rheumatism. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticoagulant, antidiabetic, antifungal and antiviral properties.
Forms of turmeric
Turmeric is sold on the market in various forms and can be found in different types of products. Turmeric can be purchased as a powdered spice that can be used in cooking (either for medicinal, skincare, or dietary purposes). The powder can be found in most grocery stores and it mostly has a shelf life of up to two years.
Turmeric can also be bought as supplements, skin care products, and even as essential oils. Turmeric supplements are offered as a means of obtaining the medicinal benefits of turmeric either as capsules or tablets. Because turmeric obtains most of its health benefits from curcumin, it is important that you opt for brands or products that have curcumin quantities standardised to a high percentage. When using turmeric supplements, it is also important to consider ones that have piperine (black pepper) added to it as this increases the bioavailability of the curcumin. Curcumin on its own has very low bioavailability and this will result in very small amounts being absorbed into the bloodstream. Piperine (found in black pepper) has the ability to increase the bioavailability by 2000%.
Fresh turmeric roots can be found in some grocery stores and these can be peeled and either chopped into tiny pieces or grated to be used in dishes.
Turmeric can be used in different ways which makes it easy for it to be incorporated into our lifestyles. It is worth noting that turmeric is better absorbed and used in the body when used with black pepper, healthy fats, or fish oil. Some of the ways in which turmeric can be used are;
- Cooking and baking
- Herbal tea
- Smoothies and shakes
- Natural soap
- Turmeric supplements
- Facial masks
Health Benefits of Turmeric
There has been an increased interest in the health benefits of turmeric to further understand and explore its medicinal properties. There is increasing evidence from the large body of scientific studies published on this that supports its health benefits.
Turmeric has a long history of being used in Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent to treat conditions such as arthritis. In parts of Asia, its paste or powder is mixed with lime, warmed up, and applied to treat inflammation and swelling of the limbs caused by external injuries.
Turmeric has been reported to have beneficial effects on stomach upsets, flatulence, and abdominal cramps. In a study that was carried out to assess the effects of turmeric extract on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptomology in otherwise healthy adults, it was reported that turmeric may help reduce IBS symptoms. A post-study analysis also highlighted a significant reduction in abdominal pain/discomfort score.
Cardiovascular Diseases and Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is characterized by oxidative damage that affects lipoproteins, the walls of blood vessels, and subcellular membranes (Quiles et al., 1998). Mesa et al. (2003) reported that the oral administration of a nutritional dose of turmeric extracts reduced the susceptibility to oxidation of erythrocyte and liver microsome membranes in vitro, and could possibly contribute to the prevention of effects caused by a diet high in fat and cholesterol in blood and liver during the development of atherosclerosis. In a study that looked at the effect of turmeric extract on the development of experimental atherosclerosis in rabbits, it was reported that compared with the turmeric extract-treated group, the control group showed higher plasma lipid peroxide at all experimental times and lower tocopherol and coenzyme Q levels at 20 and 30 days. It was suggested that supplementation with turmeric could reduce oxidative stress and attenuate the development of fatty streaks in rabbits fed a high cholesterol diet.
Cancer and Tumor
The effects of turmeric on cancer have been an area of interest for researchers. Some of the research has looked at turmeric’s anticancer potential against different types of cancer including colorectal, prostate, blood, and breast.
Medicinal properties of Curcumin
Turmeric for the Joints (Arthritis)
The word arthritis comes from the Greek words “artho” meaning joint and “itis” meaning inflammation. Arthritis is a condition in the joints characterised by chronic inflammation in one or more joints that usually result in pain. There are different types of arthritis but the most common ones are osteoarthritis, gout arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
How to reduce inflammation
Osteoarthritis refers to a degenerative joint disease in which the joint’s cartilage breaks down faster than the body is capable of rebuilding it. This results in the ends of the bones at joints rubbing against each other which causes inflammation and pain
Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the joints. It is a painful inflammatory condition that renders you less mobile due to the pain in the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis appears to be more common in women than in men.
Gout arthritis on the other hand is caused by the chemical uric acid, a by-product of protein breakdown. When you suffer from this condition, uric acid crystals are deposited on the articular cartilage of joints, tendons, and surrounding tissues which causes inflammation. Gout arthritis is twice as likely to affect African-American men as Caucasian men. This may be because more African-American men suffer from hypertension and take medication to lower their blood pressure.
Normal Joint vrs Arthritic Joint. Source: Healthy Aging for Dummies
People of all ages, sexes, and races can and do have arthritis, and it is the leading cause of disability in America. Common arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion. Symptoms may come and go. They can be mild, moderate, or severe. They may stay about the same for years but can progress or get worse over time. Severe arthritis can result in chronic pain, inability to do daily activities, and make it difficult to walk or climb stairs.
Generally, the occurrence of arthritis increases with age due to the decreased capacity to suppress inflammation and increased bone turnover. The exact root cause of arthritis remains uncertain, however, what is known is that it is associated with inflammation and pain in the joints. The primary objective of most treatments out there is to reduce the joint pain associated with inflammation and also help reduce inflammation in the joints.
Traditional medicine and herbal therapies with anti-inflammatory properties and minimum side effects such as turmeric are therefore useful when dealing with joint pain or arthritis. Curcumin (turmeric) being a compound with anti-inflammatory properties has been found to reduce pain and improve physical function and quality of life. A study in 2016 that looked at the clinical and preclinical evidence of curcumin as an antiarthritic agent and the putative mechanisms involved for its actions concluded that Curcumin, a NF-κB suppressor, demonstrates potential as a treatment agent for osteoarthritis, a disease with an underlying inflammatory cause.
In a separate study, 1000mg of Meriva tablets, equivalent to 200mg curcuminoids per day was administered per day for 3 months to a cohort of 50 patients with osteoarthritis. The study reported a decrease in pain and stiffness and an increase in the physical functioning of the joints. Another similar study using Meriva tablets was again carried out for 8 months in 100 patients and it was found that curcumin was well tolerated and can be used for long-term treatment.
Curcumin extracts (turmeric) were found to be as effective as ibuprofen for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis as reported by a research study that sought to determine the efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts in pain reduction and functional improvement. According to the report, the side effect profile was similar to ibuprofen but with fewer gastrointestinal upsets.
The use of turmeric for rheumatoid arthritis has also been known to yield positive results. A study showed that 500mg of curcumin was more effective in reducing the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis than 50mg of diclofenac sodium, a common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug used to treat inflammation and pain.
Dosage. How much turmeric should I use?
The dosage of turmeric has ranged anywhere from 500 milligrams to 6 grams per day of whole turmeric powder. Some studies have also reported dosages ranging from 1 gram to 4 grams per day for up to about 9 months of daily use and this appeared to be well-tolerated, safe, and effective at their intended therapeutic purpose.
Risks or Side effects of using turmeric
Turmeric or curcumin taken at the recommended dosages are typically safe for use in reducing joint pain (arthritis). Very high dosages are may cause diarrhoea, nausea, or tummy upset. Caution should also be taken to avoid turmeric before surgery or any major medical operation as turmeric is known to slow blood clotting/enhance anticoagulant/antiplatelet effects. It is also known to stimulate the uterus in large amounts so it is important for pregnant women to be cautious when taking turmeric supplements. Like most food supplements, it is important to consult your health practitioner before taking turmeric for joint pain or arthritis, especially if you are taking medication or are under medical supervision.
Other methods of fighting joint pain
Aside from taking turmeric supplements for joint pain or arthritis, it is also worth considering other ways of reducing inflammation or pain in the joints. Below are some other options that can help reduce joint pain.
Maintaining a healthy weight – Maintaining a healthy weight not only helps with joint pain or arthritis but also goes a long way in supporting good health. It is estimated that every extra 10 pounds of weight we carry feels like 30 pounds on the knees. Removing additional weight from the body in effect lightens the load on the body which will allow you to move more easily and comfortably. Three key strategies for reducing and maintaining healthy weights are
- Set realistic goals
- Enjoy eating healthier and whole foods
- Get active
Exercising – Some low impact exercises such as swimming and cycling can be useful in helping reduce pain associated with the joints or arthritis. In addition to helping with joint-related issues, regular exercise can help maintain healthy body weight.
Turmeric for joint pain or arthritis – Summary
There is adequate evidence that suggests that turmeric and its active compound, curcumin, are effective in the treatment of joint pain (or arthritis) associated with inflammation. Turmeric has been shown to help reduce pain in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Abboud, J. and Abboud, S., 2010. No More Joint Pain. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Agin, B. and Perkins, S., 2008. Healthy Aging For Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Pub.
Branson, S., 2018. 101 Amazing Uses For Turmeric. Familius LLC.
Daily, J., Yang, M. and Park, S., 2016. Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and Curcumin for Alleviating the Symptoms of Joint Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Journal of Medicinal Food, 19(8), pp.717-729.
Funk, J., Frye, J., Oyarzo, J., Kuscuoglu, N., Wilson, J., McCaffrey, G., Stafford, G., Chen, G., Lantz, R., Jolad, S., Sólyom, A., Kiela, P. and Timmermann, B., 2006. Efficacy and mechanism of action of turmeric supplements in the treatment of experimental arthritis. Arthritis & Rheumatism, 54(11), pp.3452-3464.
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