Curcumin (Turmeric) in the management of Joint Arthritis

Arthritis is a condition that results from inflammation of the joints and can result in pain of different degrees of severity ( from mild to very severe). The pain and inflammation can lead to limitation of movements of the joint. There are several forms of arthritis; common forms include osteoarthritis,  rheumatoid arthritis,  psoariatic arthritis, arthritis related to autoimmune diseases.

The exact causes for arthritis are not well known and the goal of management is to reduce or manage pain induced by inflammation in the joints, daily wear and tear of joints and muscle strains. Existing strategies for management include painkillers or analgesics, steroids to reduce inflammation, and non steroidal antiinflammatory agents (NSAIDs). There are several complications associated with the sustained use of these medications.

Curcumin has traditionally been used in cuisines especially those from the Indian subcontinent. The antiinflammatory properties of curcumin are also elaborated in ancient Indian (Ayurveda) and Chinese medicine. The use of turmeric mixed with milk was also a daily routine promoted by grandmothers in the Indian subcontinent. Besides the antiinflammatory benefits, curcumin also offers benefits against musculoskeletal disorders, against diabetes and dyslipidemia.

The systemic bioavailability of curcumin after intake is known to be very poor. There are very low levels of curcumin in the body 1 to 4 hours after intake of a single oral dose ranging from 500mg to 8000 mg or long term administration of curcumin extracts from 440 to 2200 mg per day. Curcumin has a low stability in aqueous solutions and at physiological pH and gets degraded in 30 minutes after ingestion. Curcumin is generally regarded as safe with little side effects. It may cause nausea at high doses. High doses may also interfere with iron metabolism and maybe avoided in those with iron deficiency. However, a dose less than 2000 mg per day (an average of 1000 mg per day) is sufficient to provide benefits in osteoarthritis and may not lead to side effects. Indian subcontinental cuisines may use 2500 mg of turmeric daily as part of the process of cooking.

The bioavailability of curcumin may be improved very much (as much as 2000%) by adding a pinch of black pepper powder to the mix. Other approaches to improve bioavailability of curcumin include the use of nano particles, liposomal curcumin, curcumin phospholipids and structural analogues of curcumin. Heating curcumin is also considered beneficial for improving availability.

Further studies on the efficacy of curcumin  and turmeric is recommended based on current methods of evaluating clinical evidence. However, it may still be a good idea to listen to our grandmothers and include a glass of turmeric milk in the daily diet, maybe as a night cap. A dose of 1000 mg of turmeric powder mixed in a glass of warm milk and a pinch of black pepper powder may provide several benefits.

Access a systematic review of scientific studies of turmeric and curcumin in joint arthritis

Note: There are several scientific publications on the benefits and uses of turmeric. A search of PUBMED or even a Google search can point you in the direction of several high quality studies.

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