For centuries, practitioners of Indian and Chinese medicine have utilized Turmeric for its natural anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties in healing. In recent years, this herb has made its way onto the Western medical stage with a particular focus on its potential role in treating our most common arthritic condition: osteoarthritis (OA).
Arthritis (aka Joint Swelling) = Pain
Patients with OA often notice pain and swelling in their affected joints. This can occur on a daily basis, or sometimes just during periods of flare. Walking or any sort of movement can become very painful.
Analgesics (aka Pain Medications) = Side Effects
Standard treatment for OA typically involves regular use of Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen (Advil) or Naproxen (Aleve). But understandably, many patients worry about taking these: regular, prolonged use of acetaminophen can be hard on the liver; NSAIDs can erode the lining of the stomach, predisposing to stomach ulcers or bleeding. They can also be dangerous for people who have problems with their kidneys or heart, high blood pressure, or who take other blood thinners.
There is a role for these medications to be prescribed to select patients during certain circumstances. However, for those who cannot safely take, or tolerate, these medications, or seek a more natural solution, alternative options exist.
Turmeric (aka Curcuma) = Safe Alternative?
Enter turmeric — also known as curcumin, a member of the ginger family of plants. Recognizable by its bright orange colour, and native to Southeast Asia and India, it’s been utilized in traditional healing for centuries. And now, it’s widely available and making an entrance into Western medicine.
A multitude of studies have compared curcumin to either placebo or NSAIDs, and evaluated the combination of curcumin and NSAID taken together. And here’s the scoop: curcumin was equally efficacious to NSAIDs, most notably improving patients’ overall symptom scores, including pain, as well as mobility. It was also safely added to NSAID and acetaminophen.
Curcumin’s safety profile is excellent, and over the time studied (up to four months), most patients reported no adverse effects. A few reported nausea and indigestion, but less of these gastrointestinal side effects were seen with curcumin than its NSAID counterparts.
Of note, curcumin can affect platelets, and bleeding time, thus should be avoided if taking other blood thinners such as aspirin, warfarin or plavix, and in the two weeks leading up to any scheduled surgery. It can worsen heartburn symptoms, and should be avoided by patients with gallstones. Finally, as with many OTC, prescription and herbal remedies, its safety has not been studied in pregnancy, breastfeeding or for use in children, so best to avoid in these groups.
Bottom Line = Definitely Worth a Try
Curcumin is the active ingredient we’re seeking in turmeric, and to get enough of it, a standardized supplement is typically required. To emulate the studies, a total of 1000-1500mg of curcumin can be taken over the course of the day. That said, concentrations do vary so be sure to take your supplement as directed.
Looking for an East-meets-West treatment? Curcumin can also be combined with NSAIDs or Acetaminophen for potentially more power than either agent packs alone.
As always, it’s safest to consult your doctor, naturopath or herbalist prior to using, especially if you suffer medical conditions or take other supplements, prescribed or over-the-counter medications.
Enjoy harnessing nature’s powers to optimize your health and wellbeing. Please share your experience! I’d be happy to hear how turmeric worked (or didn’t — isn’t that just as important in medicine?). To your health!