Turmeric For Pain: Does It Really Work?

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Prior to her stem cell treatment my wife tried different supplements to help with her knee pain. One of them was marketed as a tissue rejuvenator and contained most of the typical joint ingredients – including turmeric.

Long story short – it didn’t seem to help.

So I basically wrote off turmeric altogether until I ended up doing a bit more research recently for this article.

It turns out that turmeric can be pretty helpful for pain (especially arthritis pain). But there are certain things you have to take into account that her previous supplement didn’t.

In this article I’m going to share what I learned including dosing (which was the biggest issue with her supplement), side effects, drug interactions and – most importantly – proof supporting it’s use.

Looking At The Evidence

Turmeric and it’s curcumin components have been used for thousands of years to treat everything from arthritis to bowel problems.

Most of the clinical trials didn’t study turmeric but the main active component called curcumin.

Pain Killing Potential – One study found that giving patients with arthritis in their knees Curcuma longa Linn (500 mg twice daily) caused patients to use less ‘rescue’ medications like Tylenol and get more pain relief compared to placebo [1].

Another study compared curcumin extract (500 mg given three times daily) to be as effective as Advil (ibuprofen – 400mg three times daily) for improving pain and function in patients with arthritis in their knee. Side effects in both groups were similar – however the ibuprofen users did see a higher rate of stomach pain and distension [2].

Other studies used doses of curcumin by itself (1,000 mg per day) and 500 mg per day given with other pain killers (ibuprofen, diclofenac or glucosamine). They found no difference between curcumin given by itself or curcumin given with other pain killers [3].

Here’s a study that I found really interesting because it compared curcumin (500 mg twice daily) to a popular pain/arthritis drug Voltaren (diclofenac – 50 mg twice daily). While both groups experienced improvements in pain scores the curcumin groups improvements were significantly greater [4].

Another important point: the curcumin group did not report any side effects.

The bottom line: Studies didn’t look at turmeric – only it’s active component curcumin. It’s clear to me that curcumin is effective in treating pain – especially arthritis pain. And has even shown signs that it can be more effective than prescription drugs. It appears safe and can be given with other pain meds like ibuprofen, diclofenac and glucosamine.

Treating Inflammation: when you have inflammation in your body one of the pathways involved is the eicosanoid. This is the same pathway that drugs like Celebrex (celecoxib) treat. Curcumin has been shown to block this pathway as well [5].

Another study looked at using curcumin to treat Uremic Pruritus in patients who weren’t getting relief from any other drugs. Uremic pruritus is a chronic itching that happens in about 20-50% of patients with advanced or end stage kidney disease. The researchers found that not only did lab signs of inflammation go down but the patients had significant decreases in pruritus scores comapred to the placebo group [6].

The bottom line: curcumin has shown to not only block some of the inflammation pathways but also improve results in patients with inflammation while not causing any real side effects.

What Dose Should You Take?

The most ‘common’ dose you’ll find in studies was 500 mg of curcumin extract given twice daily. Although others went up to 500 mg three times daily.

One of the most popular supplements available from Bioschwartz contains 1,350 mg of curucma longa root and 150 mg of other curcuminoids – per serving (3 capsules). They recommend to take it once or twice daily.

This is probably THE biggest reason why my wife’s joint supplement didn’t help … she was only getting 100mg of turmeric per day. This is only a small fraction of the dose that has proven to be helpful in studies.

joint rejuvenator too little turmeric
No wonder my wife’s joint supplement didn’t do anything. It contains hardly any turmeric. This is one of the biggest problems with buying multi-ingredient supplements.

Based off the evidence and feedback I’ve seen curcumin appears to be safe at doses of up to 3,000 mg per day – although I wouldn’t recommend starting that high.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that patients respond to medications and supplements differently. I’d probably start at 1,000 mg to 1,500 mg per day and see how you respond.

You can take it as a single dose or break it up two to three times daily.

I’d probably shoot for once a day dosing as most patients aren’t very good about taking medications more than once a day.

Are There Any Side Effects?

This is one of the things I really like about turmeric – people seem to tolerate it really well.

In the studies I looked at there were few side effects.

Even at very high doses of 8,000 mg per day patients reported no side effects [7].

You’re biggest concern if you take turmeric is probably the risk of an allergic reaction. Although that’s rare as well.

How About Drug Interactions?

All in all – turmeric is pretty safe.

I’ve already touched on a number of studies where turmeric was used in combination with other prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs (diclofenac, acetaminophen and flurbiprofen) with no side effects.

With that being said, I would have some concerns about turmeric interacting with certain drugs. These include:

  • Delsym (dextromethorphan) – an OTC cough suppressant. Curcumin inhibited the breakdown of the drug. [8]
  • Prograf (tacrolimus) – used for prevention of organ rejection in transplants. This was only reported in a single person case study, but it’s worth noting. [9]

In both of these cases it looks like curcumin was inhibiting the breakdown of those drugs by the liver – which lead to higher than normal blood levels of the other drugs.

Does It Matter What Form You Take?

When it comes to treating pain just stick with curcumin in capsule form.

Some people have reportedly tried topical products with poor results. That’s not surprising as drugs applied on the skin have low absorption rates.

If you decide to try a supplement here’s some things to look for:

  • Contain Curcuma Longa root – this is the ingredient used in every study I looked at for treating pain and inflammation. Shouldn’t be hard to find but the actual dosages can vary.
  • Bioperine – Curcumin is not absorbed in your body very well. Adding in this black pepper extract has been shown to increase absorption

You’ll find most of the products available also include what they call ‘turmeric extract’ of 95% standardized curcuminoids. This allows them to get other forms of curcumin in the formulation as well.

Does it make a difference?

Probably not … at least I can’t find any evidence that it does. But I also don’t think it does any harm.

Would I Recommend Turmeric To A Family Member?

Yep. At least I think it would be worth a shot.

Fist, it’s proven to work. Sometimes better than prescription drugs.

Secondly, it’s safe. There are few side effects. It’s also safe to take with a number of other drugs – even other pain killers.

My only concern from a safety standpoint is turmeric an inhibit certain liver enzymes which means certain drugs can ‘build up’ in your system.

Finally, it’s not that expensive. You can find plenty of turmeric supplements available for the $20-$25 mark. For that price it should last you a month or more depending on how much your taking.

That’s plenty of time to know whether it’s going to help you or not.

I don’t think any one specific brand is necessarily better than any other. Sometimes you just have to pick one and try it.

With that being said here’s a few options I’ve personally looked at that have ticked all the boxes I mentioned above, have good reviews and can serve as starting points for you:

References:

  1. Madhu K, Chanda K, Saji MJ. Safety and efficacy of Curcuma longa extract in the treatment of painful knee osteoarthritis: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Inflammopharmacology. 2013;21(2):129-136.[PubMed 23242572
  2. Ross SM. Turmeric (Curcuma longa), effects of Curcuma longa extracts compared with ibuprofen for reduction of pain and functional improvement in patients with knee osteoarthritis. Holist Nurs Pract. 2016;30(3):183-186.[PubMed 27078813
  3. Daily JW, Yang M, Park S. Efficacy of turmeric extracts and curcumin for alleviating the symptoms of joint arthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J Med Food. 2016;19(8):717-729.[PubMed 27533649
  4. Chandran B, Goel A. A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytother Res. 2012;26(11):1719-1725.[PubMed 22407780
  5. Rao CV. Regulation of COX and LOX by curcumin. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:213-226.[PubMed 17569213
  6. Pakfetrat M, Basiri F, Malekmakan L, Roozbeh J. Effects of turmeric on uremic pruritus in end stage renal disease patients: a double-blind randomized clinical trial. J Nephrol. 2014;27(2):203-207.[PubMed 24482090
  7. Dhillon N, Aggarwal BB, Newman RA, et al. Phase II trial of curcumin in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. Clinical Cancer Res. 2008;14(14):4491-4499.[PubMed 18628464
  8. Al-Jenoobi FI, Al-Thukair AA, Alam MA, et al. Effect of Curcuma longa on CYP2D6- and CYP3A4-mediated metabolism of dextromethorphan in human liver microsomes and healthy human subjects. Eur J Drug Metab Pharmacokinet. 2015;40:61-66.[PubMed 24510399
  9. Nayeri A, Wu S, Adams E, Tanner C, Meshman J, Saini I, Reid W. Acute calcineurin inhibitor nephrotoxicity secondary to turmeric intake: a case report. Transplant Proc. 2017;49(1):198-200.[PubMed 28104136]