Can Turmeric Help Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Lene Andersen Nov 4th, 2016 (updated Jan 25th, 2017)
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tumericTurmeric is a popular spice at the moment, both in recipes and as an alternative treatment for a number of conditions. You may have heard that it can be helpful for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and may even work better than medication. In this slideshow, we look more closely at the background, the claims, and the facts.

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What is turmeric?
What is turmeric?

Turmeric is a golden colored and strongly flavored spice that has been used in cooking for several thousand years. Originating in Asia, turmeric is extracted from the root of the plant Curcuma longa, which grows in India and Indonesia. It has been used medicinally for almost 5,000 years in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat arthritis.

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Curcumin
Curcumin

Curcumin is the part of turmeric that creates its golden color and has been reported to have healing qualities. Curcumin has shown promise when used in pro-inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, cancer, irritable bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and more. In-depth studies have looked into the safety and efficacy of curcumin.

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What does curcumin do?
What does curcumin do?

The medicinal ingredients of curcumin modulate signalling pathways in numerous cells. It has specific properties that block inflammatory enzymes and cytokines. These include cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), which also is targeted by the NSAID celecoxib.

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Turmeric and arthritis in animal studies
Turmeric and arthritis in animal studies

Animal studies utilizing turmeric extract have demonstrated an anti-inflammatory effects on joints. A 2010 study built on previous research and investigated whether turmeric essential oils protected the joints in the rats. The results were positive, indicating a potential for a positive effect in humans, as well, but more research is needed.

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Turmeric and arthritis in human studies
Turmeric and arthritis in human studies

Curcumin has been shown to have a beneficial effect for both RA and osteoarthritis (OA). Two small studies of people with RA showed that curcumin was as effective as NSAIDs or more so, showed no adverse effects, and reduced C-reactive protein levels. It’s important to note that larger studies with a double-blind design are needed.

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Using turmeric for RA, part 1
Using turmeric for RA, part 1

Studies indicate that turmeric can be effective in treating RA inflammation and pain. It is important to note the effects of turmeric are similar to NSAIDs. That is, it can treat the symptoms of RA, but not the cause.

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Using turmeric for RA, part 2
Using turmeric for RA, part 2

In addition, research has studied turmeric’s effect on joints, but not on the systemic impact of RA. In order to suppress RA or to go into remission, DMARDs and Biologics are still needed.

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Let’s talk about adverse effects
Let’s talk about adverse effects

Turmeric is lauded as safe, and studies do seem to indicate that it is safer than NSAIDs. However, turmeric does have a blood thinning effect and could have an interaction with other blood thinning medication, such as aspirin and warfarin. Avoid turmeric if you’re having surgery or are pregnant and if you have gallbladder disease.

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How to use turmeric
How to use turmeric

Turmeric can be used in three different ways. You can use it in spice form by adding it to salads and curries. Turmeric is fat-soluble, so mix it with a healthy fat. If you’re taking it as a supplement, using capsules or extract may reduce the risk of contaminants. The dosage for those with RA is 500 mg daily.

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Making good choices with alternative treatment
Making good choices with alternative treatment

It can be exciting to hear of a natural substance working well and safely for RA, but it’s important to research these statements. With turmeric, research shows that it may be effective for symptoms, but not for RA itself. It also is shown to have side effects and possible interactions. Ask your doctor or a licensed naturopath before using it.