Does Turmeric help with joint pain and inflammation?
What is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a bright yellow spice that many of us will be familiar with as a common ingredient in curry recipes and other Indian foods. Turmeric is the main ingredient in most curry powders - when you break open an onion bhaji that bright yellow colour comes from turmeric. Turmeric is from the same spice family as ginger, and both are believed to share similar anti-inflammatory effects. Like the ginger plant, turmeric grows as a root and is typically ground into a powder and used in cooking to flavour the dish. Turmeric has also been used for thousands of years in Eastern remedies to treat various conditions such as inflammation and painful joints.
Turmeric use can be traced back to the Vedic culture in India where it was used as a culinary spice almost 4,000 years ago, to this day India produces nearly all of the world’s turmeric crop and also consumes 80% of it!
Arthritis is a condition that many people suffer from. It causes inflamed stiff joints which can be extremely painful. The figures from the NHS show that around 1 million people in the UK experience some form of chronic joint condition that requires ongoing medical treatment. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. You may have read already that some common spices such as turmeric, may be able to help, but is there any truth behind these claims?
What the claims are based on.
Turmeric contains small amounts of curcumin, an active compound that is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin has antioxidant properties and the ability to removed free-radicals from the body. Curcumin is also believed to play a role in blocking proteins that can cause inflammation. There have been many clinical trials that seem to show that turmeric can both reduce symptoms and reduce pain in Osteoarthritis patients. In these trials it was found that patients who took turmeric reported a bigger improvement from those taking ibuprofen.
In another trial, results indicated that curcumin extracts were as affective as ibuprofen with both groups showing significant improvement in pain, inflammation, and mobility scores. According to a 2018 study conducted in China, curcumin has been shown to be effective at reducing tenderness and swelling of joints associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
A history of use.
Much like Valerian Root that we covered in our previous blog, there is evidence that turmeric has been used for treating such conditions and produced successful results, in the case of turmeric for thousands of years. Evidence suggests that Turmeric provides similar analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects as anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen.
Medicines derived from plants have played a pivotal role in the health care of our culture, both in ancient and modern times and the research on turmeric so far looks very promising, it continues to show positive results in many clinical trials.
More research needed.
In 2016, researchers evaluated all random clinical trials of turmeric extracts and curcumin for treating arthritis symptoms. It was published in the Journal of Medicinal Food and for further reading you can find a link to that at the bottom of the page.
Unfortunately, they concluded that “the total number of trials available, the total sample size, and the methodological quality of the primary studies were not sufficient to draw definitive conclusions.” and that (as is commonly the case in these areas) “more rigorous and larger studies are needed to confirm the therapeutic efficacy of turmeric for arthritis.” Whether these larger and more rigorous studies will ever be forthcoming to give us a definite answer is uncertain, so where does this leave us?
If you live with a chronic condition like arthritis, you’ll know that there are a number of treatments and changes to your lifestyle that can be used in combination to manage the worst symptoms. The 2016 researchers concluded that there is a justification for the use of turmeric as an addition to conventional treatment. So the addition of some turmeric in your diet, along with any other treatments and dietary changes you've made could help and provide additional relief.
Many studies and years of anecdotal evidence have shown turmeric to be a viable option for many, however turmeric is not listed as an arthritis treatment by the NHS, and therefore is unlikely to be prescribed or even suggested to you by your GP. As always, you should not stop taking any prescribed medicines without speaking to your doctor. If you have severe pain or inflammation then you should always seek the advice of medical professionals.
Many of us who enjoy Indian and spicy food, already consume turmeric regularly as part of our normal balanced diet and using turmeric in cooking is very safe. If you are considering taking larger amounts in capsule form, for example, then we would recommend speaking to your GP first. So far, research studies seem to show that it causes few or no side effects, but we don't know much about the side effects of taking it in large amounts for medical reasons.
For further reading on the 2016 findings follow the link below: