Good evidence for using turmeric to treat arthritis pain
I’m generally not a fan of supplements or herbal remedies.
There can be a lot of marketing hype behind these products, but not a lot of good science.
However…about a month ago I finally became so tired of living with chronic arthritis pain, mostly in my hands and neck, that I decided to research turmeric to see if there was any chance it could help me.
I wanted an alternative to ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), which works great to control my pain, but it’s not only hard on my stomach, it’s a bad idea to take it long-term. Ibuprofen and the other NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) increase the risk of bleeding ulcers, and eventually damage the kidneys. I only use it when I’m desperate for some relief.
Was there really a supplement that could ease my discomfort? Without side effects? Without long-term consequences? And at a reasonable price?
It seemed too good to be true!
So I started looking into what research was available. I also read reviews by those websites I trusted the most to provide good information.
What I found was that turmeric, or the active ingredient curcumin, has been shown in small studies to alleviate mild to moderate pain of osteoarthritis better than a placebo, and as well as ibuprofen.
Turmeric/curcumin also does not seem to have any significant side effects, and it appears to be safe to use long term (although there are no long-term studies to support this).
The average daily dose used in these studies was 1,500mg of the active ingredient, curcumin or curcuminoids.
Turmeric supplements vary widely in quality
I learned something else about turmeric supplements that is very important: 1,500mg of curcumin is NOT the same as 1,500mg of turmeric or turmeric root (Curcuma longa).
Read labels carefully!
There are dozens of turmeric supplements available online and in stores.
But I was prepared and knew what to look for. I read every label until I found the product I wanted.
My best source for information was ConsumerLab.com. It’s a subscription service for an independent lab that tests supplements, vitamins and herbal remedies for quality, safety and efficacy.
These products, unfortunately for the consumer, are very loosely regulated. I’ve posted about this before: What is the Quack Miranda Warning?
It’s possible to buy an herb or supplement that has way more or way less of the ingredient listed on the package. Or different ingredients altogether!
ConsumerLab.com brings a little order to the Wild West of supplements and nutriceuticals, and it’s well worth the small yearly subscription ($40) if you use a lot of supplements.
Anyway, I found basically four types of turmeric supplements.
- Turmeric alone. The labels simply read: turmeric root (Curcuma longa) 500mg. These are by far the cheapest products, but the amount of curcuminoids is unknown, so they are a questionable value.
- Turmeric standardized to >95% curcuminoids. The amount of turmeric might vary from 50mg to 500mg per capsule, but 95% of that is the active ingredient.
- Turmeric standardized to >95% curcuminoids with BioPerine. Turmeric is notoriously poorly absorbed into the body. The black pepper extract, BioPerine, increases absorption.
- Turmeric Phytosome Meriva. Like BioPerine, Meriva is an absorption enhancer. However, for 500mg capsules the label will read only 18-22% curcuminoids. That seems really low, but that’s because Meriva is apparently a super enhancer! Studies show up to 2,900% greater absorption of curcumin.
Turmeric should still be used carefully
I opted for the standardized tumeric with BioPerine because I found a good price, and I wanted to ensure good absorption (I’m not sold on Meriva’s claims).
I’ve been taking roughly 1,500mg every day for almost a month now, and I can report that it seems to be working!
I don’t think it’s placebo effect, because I didn’t really expect it to work. After the first few days I noticed the pain and stiffness in my hands, especially, to be much less. I don’t start every day wanting to chew on Advil, so that’s great! I haven’t noticed any side effects, either.
My plan is to continue taking the turmeric for about 3 months. Then I’ll stop and reassess my pain levels. Maybe I won’t need to take it again for awhile.
Even though turmeric appears to be very safe, ANY drug or supplement should be used with caution, and only for as long as necessary.
Turmeric, like ibuprofen, acts as a blood thinner. People taking other blood-thinning medications should definitely NOT use turmeric.
In general, anyone with a medical condition or taking other medications should talk to their doctor before adding another drug—and that includes vitamins, nutriceuticals and herbs!
For more information about using turmeric to treat arthritis pain, check out these links: