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Curcumin for Arthritis: Does It Help With Joint Pain?

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

Evidence-Based. Scientifically Reviewed.


In this article we will be discussing whether or not curcumin, one of the active ingredients found in turmeric, can help with arthritis and joint pain.


Table of Contents:



What Is Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is a condition where the joints wear down over time and it’s the most widespread form of arthritis.


It's usually seen in older people, but can also occur earlier, particularly if there's been joint damage due to an injury, or due to a strenuous lifestyle like sports, etc.


There are several available treatments like the following.


  • exercise

  • wearing braces

  • using walking aids

  • weight loss

  • pain medication

  • anti-inflammatory drugs


However, there's no definitive cure and these treatments don’t always have guaranteed results.


Sometimes, they don’t help much or at all. Some people might also try steroid injections or synthetic joint fluids.


In extreme cases, replacing the damaged joint through surgery can be very effective. In the US, about a million such surgeries, mainly involving knees and hips, are performed yearly.


People with osteoarthritis often try various options hoping for relief. Some people even try diets including foods that fight inflammation, antioxidants, gluten-free diets, etc.


But there's not much evidence that these diets are effective in helping joint pain. The evidence that does exist doesn’t show a consistent or noticeable advantage.



Curcumin and Osteoarthritis

A study in BMC hints that curcumin, which is naturally found in the spice turmeric, might alleviate osteoarthritis pain.


In this study, 139 individuals with knee osteoarthritis were studied. They were experiencing moderate to severe symptoms and needed treatment with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).


For 30 days, they were given either:

  • diclofenac (an NSAID, 50 mg twice daily)

  • curcumin (500 mg three times daily)


Curcumin is interesting because it’s natural and found in turmeric. It fights inflammation and is suggested for heart health, arthritis, and other conditions.


However, there are not enough well-conducted studies to prove its benefits.



Results of the Study

Almost equally, both curcumin and diclofenac eased the arthritis symptoms.


  • 94% taking curcumin felt at least 50% better

  • 97% taking diclofenac felt at least 50% better


On average, those taking curcumin lost nearly 2% of their weight in a month (read more about curcumin and weight loss).


Fewer side effects were reported by those taking curcumin.


For instance, no one on curcumin needed stomach-related (such as gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhoea, etc) treatments, but 28% on diclofenac did.



Issues With This Study

While one study did show some benefit to taking curcumin for arthritis and joint pain, this is not enough to give a conclusive answer.


There are some obvious flaws to this study, such as the following.


  • The study was brief and had a small number of participants.

  • Only knee osteoarthritis was studied.

  • We can't assume other arthritis types or osteoarthritis in other joints will have the same response.

  • Curcumin was tested against one dosage level of diclofenac (not the highest recommended dose).

  • The study was unblinded - participants and researchers knew who took what. This can affect results due to expectations regarding side effects or benefits.


Moreover, the diclofenac used was uncoated, though there's a coated version which is gentler on the stomach.


Results might have varied if another NSAID, or a different dose or form of diclofenac was used.



The study was limited to adults aged 38-65 and excluded those with significant kidney or stomach issues. We're unsure of curcumin's effectiveness or safety for individuals not in this study.


Results might differ for younger or older people or those with other health issues, or those taking different medications.


Over-the-counter supplements like curcumin aren't regulated like prescription drugs. Information on purity, strength, and interactions with medications or conditions is usually lacking.


There have also been recent reports of lead contamination in turmeric.


Weight loss due to curcumin might be an issue for individuals who are already thin.


Takeaway

Based on this study curcumin might help with knee osteoarthritis.


However more studies with longer durations, involving different types of arthritis and comprehensive safety tests are needed before curcumin can be recommended as a treatment for arthritis and joint pain.



References

This evidence-based analysis of curcumin and its effects on joint pain and arthritis features 1 reference, listed below.


1. Shep, D., Khanwelkar, C., Gade, P. et al. Safety and efficacy of curcumin versus diclofenac in knee osteoarthritis: a randomized open-label parallel-arm study. Trials20, 214 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-019-3327-2



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