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  • Writer's pictureNicole M. Cotter, M.D.

Turmeric for Arthritis

Turmeric is a spice that is best known in medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties. It is a plant from the ginger family and has an orange root that is ground into a powder. As a cooking spice, it is a common ingredient in curry, giving food a yellow color. In Ayurveda, a traditional Indian medical system, if has been used for a multitude of ailments. Within the past few decades, it has been the highlight of clinical trials for its use as an anti-inflammatory agent in the treatment of medical disease. The active ingredients in turmeric are polyphenol curcuminoids.

One of the most common medical conditions for which turmeric is used is Arthritis. There have been several randomized clinical trials showing the benefits of turmeric for arthritis. Reviews of the medical literature have shown positive effects from the use of turmeric in Osteoarthritis, including improvements in joint pain and function. It has even been compared to nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (“NSAIDs”, such as ibuprofen) and found to be comparable with fewer side effects. There have also been studies looking at the use of turmeric in Rheumatoid Arthritis, an autoimmune disease, and other inflammatory diseases.

Turmeric is poorly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. This is not good if you are trying to use this spice for symptoms outside of the gut. There are, however, ways to improve absorption and bioavailability when taking turmeric to treat arthritis symptoms. It is important to look for a highly bioavailable form of turmeric if you are using this spice to treat arthritis symptoms. One option is to take a supplement that includes bioperine, a black pepper extract, with turmeric because it enhances absorption from the intestine. There are also a few particular compounds have been studied, such as Meriva, Theracumin, and BCM-95, that improve bioavailability (the amount of a substance that enters circulation) of curcumin. These compounds have been developed to have a “layer” around the curcuminoids so they are more easily absorbed and available in the bloodstream.

It is important to remember that neutraceuticals are medications. They can have side effects and interact with other neutraceuticals and prescription drugs. Often, people think of supplements as harmless but that is not always the case. While some are very safe and low risk, it is important to know what you are taking and if it is safe for YOU in particular. This is a discussion to have with your doctor. Always divulge what you are taking or planning to take over-the-counter because it could matter in the grand scheme of things.

While typically well-tolerated, turmeric has some potential side effects. It can cause abdominal discomfort. Rashes and allergic-type reactions are possible. It may increase risk of bleeding, so you should not take it if you are on blood thinners or prone to bleeding. It may also interact with medications and either enhance or inhibit their effectiveness. It may prevent certain chemotherapy medications from working as well. It can also interfere with medications that block stomach acid.

Turmeric may be an excellent choice for you in managing arthritis symptoms. If you are thinking about taking turmeric for arthritis, find a highly bioavailable form and discuss with your doctor whether it will be safe for you.

You can find some of my favorite turmeric supplements on Fullscript at this link:

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