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Turmeric for arthritis and joints

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Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects the joints, causing pain and stiffness. The most common type, osteoarthritis, is caused by the protective cartilage on the joints wearing down. Another type, rheumatoid arthritis, is an autoimmune condition – with this condition, symptoms are caused by the immune system attacking the cells that line the joints.

If you live with arthritis, you’ll know that – while it is a chronic condition that cannot be cured – there are a number of treatments and lifestyle changes that can be adopted to manage the symptoms.

In recent years, turmeric has been said to be a viable treatment for arthritis, with studies finding that the substance (most commonly used in cooking), has anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects.

Turmeric is not listed as an arthritis treatment by the NHS, and therefore is unlikely to be prescribed by your GP. However, there is some evidence to suggest that it can be an effective treatment for arthritis symptoms.

What is turmeric?

Turmeric is best known as a spice used in Asian dishes – it is often added to Indian curries, giving them a distinctive yellow colouring. Related to the ginger plant, turmeric grows as a root, and is typically ground into a powder and cooked into dishes in small quantities.

Turmeric has historically been used by alternative healers to treat pain and swelling. This is because it contains a substance called curcumin, which is thought to possess anti-inflammatory properties.

One study of 107 people found that daily consumption of curcumin had an effect comparable to commonly used anti-inflammatory medicines. However, evidence is still limited, if you’re thinking about taking turmeric, we recommend you speak to your GP or a pharmacist.

While more research needs to be carried out into curcumin and its effects on the body, in clinical trials turmeric has been safe to take in doses of 1-10g a day.

Does turmeric help with rheumatoid arthritis?

Though rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are separate conditions, they affect the body in very similar ways, largely by causing pain and inflammation around the joints. However, it’s unclear whether turmeric is as effective for people with rheumatoid arthritis as it is for people with osteoarthritis. Speak to your doctor or a pharmacist if you have either of these conditions and are thinking about taking turmeric.

How to take turmeric

As a spice

Adding more turmeric to your diet by regularly cooking with the spice is unlikely to have significant health benefits. This is because most recipes containing turmeric call for small amounts of the spice. What’s more, the natural curcumin content of turmeric is relatively low.

As a tea

An alternative to cooking with turmeric is to drink it as a tea. You can make turmeric tea by adding boiling water to freshly grated turmeric root or powder, or by using shop-bought products. The benefit of shop-bought turmeric tea is that it is often prepared specially so that it contains a particularly high concentration of curcumin.

As a supplement

The best way to consume turmeric is to take it as a supplement in capsule form. Supplements such as Nu U Turmeric Curcumin are usually prepared so that they contain high levels of curcumin. Certain supplements – including Nu U Organic Turmeric & Black Pepper – also contain black pepper, which is thought to help the body absorb more curcumin.

Other treatments for arthritis

If you’re going to take turmeric for your arthritis, just remember that this should not be thought of as a replacement for other treatments, especially those prescribed by your doctor.

You can manage your symptoms by:

  • Doing more exercise and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Taking over-the-counter and prescription painkillers
  • Applying capsaicin cream or using topical drug pain relief like Flexiseq
  • Using insoles, walking aids or splints
  • Using hot or cold packs
  • Having physiotherapy

In combination, these treatments, lifestyle changes and medication prescribed to you by a healthcare practitioner should help to make your symptoms more manageable. You should not take supplements as a substitute for a varied, balanced diet or a healthy lifestyle. 

References

www.nhs.uk/conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/
www.nhs.uk/conditions/osteoarthritis/
www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/complementary-and-alternative-treatments/types-of-complementary-treatments/turmeric/
www.nccih.nih.gov/health/turmeric
www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325508
www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/treatment/complementary-therapies/supplements-and-vitamins/supplement-and-herb-guide-for-arthritis-symptoms
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3918523/