Debunking the turmeric arthritis hype – Embracing curcumin’s real potential

Curcumin – found in the spice turmeric – could hold the potential to revolutionize arthritis treatment.

Turmeric 101

Curry gets its yellow color from turmeric, a traditional spice and medicinal herb in India. A growing body of evidence supports the claim that turmeric contains compounds that have medicinal properties [1].

Curcuminoids are the compounds responsible for this, with curcumin as the most important. Turmeric’s principal active ingredient is curcumin, which has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

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A spotlight on curcumin

Curcumin may help treat or prevent diseases ranging from arthritis to ulcerative colitis and cancer, but does adding turmeric to your food accomplish these goals? [2]

That is unlikely, according to Randy Horowitz MD, in an Arthritis Foundation news release. The medical director of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson shared that turmeric only contains about 2 to 6% curcumin, which doesn’t have much of an anti-inflammatory effect.

Ground turmeric has other drawbacks, as some unscrupulous manufacturers are adding synthetic turmeric to the real thing. Lead chromate, for instance, is toxic. In the last few years, 13 brands of turmeric have been recalled for lead contamination [3].

How does curcumin work?

Curcumin targets specific molecules or pathways that control cell division. The pain reliever celecoxib (Celebrex) can block inflammatory cytokines and enzymes, and this is why studies have shown it can help people with osteoarthritis (OA) [4]. For example, a 2021 review of 15 randomized controlled trials found curcumin relieved OA pain and stiffness as well or better than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and celecoxib – minus potentially severe side effects [5]. The doses ranged from 40 mg to 1,500 mg of highly bioavailable curcumin.

A small randomized controlled trial compared twice daily doses of curcumin with placebo [6]. All measures showed that both doses performed better than the placebo. Disease activity was reduced and inflammation markers and rheumatoid factor (RF) levels were significantly lowered.

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Experts’ suggestion

Experts say to stick with curcumin supplements, preferably the high-quality extracts used in clinical trials, which contain up to 95% curcumin [7]. Look for brands using black pepper (piperine), phospholipids (Meriva, BCM-95) antioxidants (CurcuWIN) or nanoparticles (Theracurmin) for better bioavailability.

Only about 2 to 3% of curcumin is absorbed by the body. With a meal that contains fat, curcumin will be absorbed even more effectively. Experts recommend 500 mg twice a day of high-quality curcumin for OA and RA.

The safety profile of curcumin from turmeric and berberine is well established in several studies [8], with a daily dosage of up to 2700 mg shown to be safe for individuals. Individuals taking 2700 mg/day did not appear to have any adverse side effects.

In conclusion

Turmeric’s most active compound, curcumin, may also help improve symptoms of arthritis. Currently, curcumin’s scarce bioavailability limits its potential benefits, and more research is needed.

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The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.