November 01, 2019

Can turmeric supplements help with arthritis pain?

Q: My friend says her arthritis pain improved after she started taking turmeric. Can you tell me more about this supplement?

A: Although a common spice in many home pantries, you may not be familiar with the purported health effects of turmeric. Relieving arthritis pain is one of many.

Turmeric, a plant related to ginger, is grown in India and many Asian countries, as well as other tropical areas. It's a major ingredient in curry powders — common in many Indian and Asian dishes — and is used as a coloring for foods, fabrics and cosmetics. The underground portions of the plant can be dried and made into capsules, tablets, extracts, powders or teas. Or they may be made into a paste to apply to the skin.

Turmeric's main active component — curcumin — is what gives the spice its yellow color. Curcumin has antiinflammatory properties, making it a potential treatment for a number of health conditions, including reduced pain and increased ease of movement in people with osteoarthritis. One study found that taking turmeric extract three times daily was comparable to taking a high, 1,200 milligram dose of ibuprofen daily. However, more research is necessary to confirm these effects.

Other research suggests that curcumin may be effective in reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In addition, it may lessen some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, such as joint swelling and morning stiffness. Other areas of investigation include curcumin's effect on Alzheimer's disease, Crohn's disease, certain cancers, depression, diabetes, joint pain and irritable bowel syndrome.

When taken by mouth or applied to the skin, turmeric — and the curcumin it contains — appears to be generally safe...