Can turmeric help treat rheumatoid arthritis?
Turmeric is a common ingredient in many dishes, including curries, but it also has a long history in traditional medicine. Scientific research indicates that turmeric may offer several health benefits. In particular, turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties that may benefit people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
However, there are some things to consider when taking turmeric supplements, and people with RA should speak to their doctor before adding the spice to their treatment regimen.
In this article, we discuss whether turmeric can help treat RA and look at what the research says. We also cover how to use turmeric and possible side effects and risks.
Can turmeric help relieve RA symptoms?
Turmeric has natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may relieve symptoms of RA.
Turmeric, or Curcuma longa, is a bright yellow or orange spice that is a popular ingredient in a variety of food dishes. Turmeric also has a place in traditional medicine practices, such as Ayurveda, which uses the spice to treat:
- stomach problems
- skin diseases
- blood disorders
- mild infections
- liver conditions
Researchers have also studied the potential health benefits of turmeric and its compounds in Western medicine. According to a 2015 review article, study findings suggest that curcumin, one of the main active compounds in turmeric, may lower blood sugar and have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties.
RA is an autoimmune condition, which means that the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joint tissue. These attacks cause inflammation that eventually leads to bone and joint damage in the affected areas.
As such, the natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of turmeric may benefit people with RA.
What does the research say?
Turmeric contains several different compounds, including curcumin. Much of the available scientific research focuses specifically on curcumin rather than turmeric as a whole.
However, some studies do suggest that both turmeric and its compounds may be helpful for the symptoms of arthritis, including RA.
A 2016 systematic review examined data from eight randomized clinical trials that investigated the effectiveness of turmeric and curcumin extracts for treating symptoms of joint arthritis.
The authors concluded that there was enough evidence to suggest that taking 1,000 milligrams (mg) of curcumin each day for 8–12 weeks can help reduce pain and inflammation due to arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis. The results also indicated that curcumin extracts might be as effective as taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil) and diclofenac (Voltaren).
However, the authors stated that the small size and moderate quality of the studies mean that further research is necessary to confirm these findings. In the meantime, they recommend that people with arthritis use curcumin as a dietary supplement in addition to conventional therapy.
A 2017 study involving 36 people with RA tested a bioavailable formulation of curcumin. After 90 days of treatment, the participants who took curcumin reported significant improvements in their pain and inflammation compared with those in the placebo group.
A newer study from 2018 investigated the effects of curcumin in a rat model of RA. The study indicated that curcumin reduced joint inflammation and redness in these rats by blocking an intracellular signaling process called the mTOR pathway.
The authors concluded that the results provide evidence of the anti-arthritic properties of curcumin and its potential for treating RA. However, further research in humans is necessary to confirm these findings.
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How to use it
Turmeric is widely available as a powder as well as in whole root form. The powder or sliced root can make a good addition to a variety of meals, including curries, soups, and rice dishes.
Many people use ground or grated turmeric to brew herbal tea. A variety of prepackaged turmeric tea bags are also available.
Although people can add turmeric to their diet in these ways, much of the research around the anti-arthritic effect of the spice focuses specifically on curcumin, which is available in dietary supplement form.
There are many curcumin supplements on the market, which tend to come in the form of capsules or tablets. Manufacturers may also add other ingredients, such as black pepper, to make the compound easier for the body to use.
The recommended dosage for curcumin supplements can vary. The authors of a 2016 systematic review recommend taking 1,000 mg of curcumin each day to treat the symptoms of arthritis. Highly bioavailable forms of curcumin may be effective at lower dosages.
However, it is important to purchase dietary supplements from reputable manufacturers and to follow their guidance on what constitutes a safe and appropriate dosage.
It is also advisable for people to speak with their doctor before taking turmeric or curcumin to relieve some of the symptoms of arthritis. It is vital not to stop or replace any other treatments without consulting a doctor first.
Side effects and risks
People may experience headaches as a side effect of taking turmeric.
Turmeric and curcumin can cause mild side effects, such as digestive upset or headaches, in some people. Individuals who are sensitive to these substances or take very high doses may experience symptoms that include rashes, nausea, and diarrhea.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should seek advice from their doctor before taking turmeric or curcumin supplements.
Turmeric may also interact with some medications, which may make them more or less effective. People taking blood thinners should consult a doctor before using turmeric or curcumin supplements as they may interfere with blood clotting.
As with other supplements, there may be a risk of contamination with heavy metals, such as lead, so it is essential to purchase these products from a reputable manufacturer.
RA is a long-term condition that can cause inflammation, pain, and stiffness in the joints.
A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that turmeric and its major compounds, such as curcumin, may help alleviate or prevent symptoms of arthritis.
However, people with symptoms of RA should always see a doctor for evaluation and treatment. Although turmeric may help alleviate symptoms of arthritis, there is not enough evidence to suggest that it can replace standard medical treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment of RA are important to reduce or prevent irreversible joint damage.
A person can purchase a variety of turmeric and curcumin products online, including:
It is advisable for people to speak to a doctor before taking curcumin supplements, particularly those currently taking other medications.