Long used in Ayurvedic medicine to control inflammation and pain and for upper respiratory infections, turmeric contains compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant affects.
Turmeric powder comes from the root of a plant scientifically known as Curcuma Longa, native to India and Southeast Asia. Its underground stem is cooked and then ground to create the orange-yellow powder that has been a staple spice in Eastern cuisines for centuries and it has been traditionally used as medicine.
Dozens of animal studies and small human trials have indicated that curcumin - turmeric's most studied compound - has anti-inflammatory properties making it a popular remedy for conditions such as arthritis, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome.
In one pilot study*, 45 people with rheumatoid arthritis took either curcumin, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (diclofenac sodium), or a combination of the two. After eight weeks, the curcumin-only group reported the most improvement in symptoms, without any negative gastrointestinal side effects.
In an early study published in Phytotherapy Research, participants withmild-to-moderate knee osteoarthritis who took a curcumin supplement saw significant improvements in pain and physical function after six weeks, compared to placebo. Other research has shown turmeric extract was as effective as ibuprofen for knee pain. And a recent analysis of research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food on turmeric extracts concluded that eight to 12 weeks of treatment with standardized turmeric extracts can reduce pain due to arthritis, compared with placebo.
Research suggests curcumin also targets specific inflammatory cells and blocks certain enzymes that lead to inflammation.
However, adding it to your cooking or your tea will provide only a tiny fraction of the amount of curcumin needed. Though you might like the flavor, a sprinkle of turmeric isn’t going to get you much benefit for treating arthritis symptoms. Turmeric only contains about 2 to 9 percent curcuminoids (the family of active compounds that includes curcumin). Plus, curcumin is hard for the body to absorb therefore supplements are a more efficient choice.
Both turmeric and curcumin are generally considered safe, without any serious side effects. But before you consider adding turmeric (or any supplement) to your regimen, talk to your doctor about dosing, potential drug interactions, and if it’s a safe option for you since it can interact dangerously with certain medications, such as blood thinners.