Article Written By: Dr. J. Moulton, ND BSc.(Hons)
Turmeric is a spice commonly used in Asian food that is a member of the Zingiberaceae (ginger) family. Curcumin is the yellow-colored active constituent derived from turmeric.
Here is some evidence for its use in osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and more.
Clinical research shows that some turmeric extracts and combination products containing turmeric can improve symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. Additional clinical research shows that turmeric might be comparable to ibuprofen 400mg 2-3 times daily for reducing knee pain. However, it does not seem to be beneficial when used as an adjunct to diclofenac 25mg daily.
A number of small clinical studies have evaluated the use of different turmeric formulations in the management of knee osteoarthritis.
Meriva, containing curcumin100mg twice daily seems to reduce pain and improve functionality after 2-3 months of treatment. Patients taking this extract also show significantly reduced usage of pain medications.
Turmacin 500 mg curcumin twice daily for 6 weeks reduces pain and improves function and other symptoms when compared with placebo.
Theracurmin shows that taking 90 mg twice daily reduces pain in those with higher pain scores at baseline and reduces the use of NSAIDs after 2 months of treatment when compared with placebo. Some nanoparticle formulation of curcumin with improved oral bioavailability, 40 mg twice daily for 6 weeks, improves pain, stiffness, and physical activity scores and reduces intake of rescue acetaminophen by about 60% when compared with placebo.
Crude extracts1500 mg daily for 12 weeks seems to improve functionality, but not pain, when compared with placebo.
Often people ask me when I recommend a supplement or if they are taking a medication is how does it work? Knowing the biochemical pathways targeted by a substance helps us understand the pharmaceutical actions of that compound. For all you science nerds, here are the main actions and biochemistry of Turmeric. For all non-science nerds, skip down to the doctor’s notes for an overview.
Analgesic effects: The exact mechanism of action is not clear, some evidence from in vitro research suggests that curcumin can inhibit transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1)-mediated pain hypersensitivity.
Anti-arthritic effects: In human research, curcumin inhibits levels of inflammatory markers associated with arthritis, including C-reactive protein, rheumatoid factor, and the erythrocyte sedimentation rate. It also inhibits interleukin 1-beta (IL-1-beta) stimulated inflammatory and catabolic mediators, including prostaglandin E2, IL-6, IL-8, and nitric oxide. It also has a protective effect against degradation and the catabolic function of IL-1-beta, lipopolysaccharides, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha in chondrocytes and cartilage. Curcumin also stimulates matrix regeneration by restoring synthesis of collagen type II and glycosaminoglycan.
Anti-inflammatory effects: Curcumin seems to have anti-inflammatory activity, possibly by inhibiting cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and other cytokines involved in pro-inflammatory signaling pathways.
Antioxidant effects: Both turmeric and its constituents have been found to scavenge free radicals and phenolic oxidants and decrease levels of reactive oxygen species. Curcumin has been shown to increase levels of glutathione, superoxide dismutase (SOD), and other antioxidant enzymes in vitro and in animal research.
If all that science stuff was hard to read, no problem – let me simplify it for you.
Curcumin, the active ingredient in Turmeric has several actions allowing it to reduce pain while helping the body initiate healing. This healing benefit is what make’s it different then over the counter pain killers that yes, reduce pain in a similar way as turmeric but don’t promote healing pathways and often have risks of GI bleeds, kidney and/or liver damage.
Depending on the form of Turmeric you may be targeting different areas of the body.
For example, if you were to use Turmeric spice over food or in a beverage such as golden milk tea, most of the health benefits will be in the gastrointestinal system. This is great for inflammatory bowels or food sensitivities but may not be enough for tougher to reach places such as a knee or hip joint.
If we want the turmeric to be absorbed in the gut, often adding black pepper or some kind of fat like coconut milk from a can is recommended. This is because black pepper increases gap junctions in the intestinal wall essentially creating a “leaky gut” and the active compound in turmeric is fat-soluble and fats are absorbed better when they have other fats to form micelles.
A question I often get is where do you get Turmeric?
Well, you can get it from any grocery store. Always check the label on spices because often there are hidden ingredients you didn’t intend on consuming. To avoid this, I prefer to get my turmeric powder from Miski Organics a local Burlington family run business that strives on high-quality pantry goods.
But sometimes that’s not enough or perhaps you just really hate the taste of turmeric? Then you have water or lipid soluble and Nano-particle sized features in todays supplements. None of them are bad but the specific form will change the speed and effect area in the body. For example, if water-soluble, it will most often stay in the blood stream reducing inflammation and oxidation throughout the body’s cardiovascular system. Lipid (fat)- soluble will prefer being in cells or getting into joint spaces but doesn’t move around very quickly. Nano-sized particles is the new feature that increases their ability to be absorbed in the gut increasing the speed in which one feels pain relief.
As a Naturopathic doctor that focuses on pain relief, I recommend Turmeric often in practice and have seen many people benefit from taking it. If you are interested in how Naturopathic Medicine can help you with pain relief then please follow this link to book either a Virtual Meet & Greet or “In-Person” appointment at our Burlington office Balance Integrative Health & IV Therapy.