Two of the most common questions we are asked by people is "How can Turmeric help my arthritis?” and “Does Turmeric just make me feel better or does it actually do anything for arthritis?”
The History of Turmeric
As the rest of the western world is only starting to discover, turmeric is a plant that has a long track record of medicinal use over the years. In fact, the medicinal properties of turmeric date back thousands of years. Because of its brilliant yellow colour, turmeric is also known as “Indian saffron.” Modern science has started to recognize the powerful significance of this spice, often referred to as the “Queen of Spices” and it has now been researched in thousands of publications in the past 25 years. Medical research suggests turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Arthritis in the UK
Arthritis is a debilitating disease that can cause excruciating pain and affect many peoples day to day life. Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in the joints and the surrounding tissues. In the UK there are around 10 million people with arthritis affecting people of all ages, including children. There are many different types of Arthritis with the most common being Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis affecting just over 9 million people in the UK alone.
Let’s have a look at turmeric's benefits and uses for people suffering from arthritis.
1. Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory
Inflammation is the primary symptom of arthritis. The wear and tear of the joints start the inflammatory cascade which leads to the production of pro-inflammatory agents. These then lead to pain, swelling and stiffness.
The inflammation spreads to the fluid lubricating the joint leading to a condition called synovitis which leads to joint stiffness. Turmeric and its active ingredient, curcumin are natural anti-inflammatory agents.
Curcumin delivers powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The compound has been shown to influence more than 700 genes, and it can inhibit both the activity and the synthesis of - cyclooxygenase (COX) and lipooxygenase (LOX) unlike regular medications such as celecoxib which inhibit only COX. Interestingly curcumin does not cause gastric erosion, which is a common side effect of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Another cause of joint destruction is inflammation from other medical issues–inflammation that hasn’t shown up yet as a problem in the joint. Metabolic syndrome, an array of problems that include insulin resistance, high blood pressure and poor management of cholesterol and triglycerides, is also a factor in many cases of osteoarthritis. Turmeric can directly help with these other sources of inflammation.
The Arthritis Foundation cites several studies in which turmeric has reduced inflammation. This anti-inflammatory ability might reduce the aggravation that people with arthritis feel in their joints. The foundation suggests taking capsules of 400 to 600 milligrams (mg) of turmeric up to three times per day for inflammation relief.
2. It is an excellent antioxidant
Another source of joint damages is Oxidative stress (or imbalance between prooxidant and antioxidant agents in the body) from free radicals in the bloodstream leads to degradation of joint tissue in arthritis. Turmeric’s antioxidant properties help here as well. A clinical trial was conducted where the effect of curcuminoids and piperine supplementation (1500mg +15mg /day) was assessed on the antioxidant status of patients suffering from osteoarthritis.
The study lasted for 6 weeks and an increase in the level of antioxidant enzymes was observed. Researchers concluded that short-term supplementation of curcuminoids alleviates oxidative stress in osteoarthritis.
3. It has bone-protective properties
Inflammation in arthritis leads to degradation of cartilage and joint tissue. In conditions like osteoarthritis degradation of bone tissue is also observed.
Curcumin protects chondrocytes- a type of bone cell from inflammation. A study shows that curcumin is as effective as betamethasone in protecting bone and joint from erosion in arthritis and preventing thickening of synovial fluid that lubricates joints.
Curcuminoids slow down the progression of osteoarthritis by preventing loss of bone tissue. This study showed that curcuminoids reduced the activity of osteoclasts (bone cells that absorb bone tissue) and maintained osteoblast function (cells that lay down bone tissue). Curcumin can even prevent loss of articular cartilage (soft tissue that ensures joint flexibility) in osteoarthritis.
A recent study published in Molecular Medicine Reports, 2016 reports that curcumin reduces the osteoclast or bone absorption like activity of cells in rheumatoid arthritis patients.
4. It is effective in autoimmune conditions
Certain types of arthritis occur because of abnormal reactions from the immune system. They are autoimmune conditions wherein the immune system attacks own body tissue in the same way as it would attack any infective organism. This is the case with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Just as the immune system produces antibodies to fight infections, it produces autoantibodies to attack its own tissue. Research shows that heat solubilized curcumin/turmeric inhibits the activity of these antibodies by 52/70%.
Curcumin has an immunomodulatory effect-it can regulate immune responses. It also inhibits activation of immune cells-T cells and prevents them from spreading inflammation.
5. It prevents progression of arthritis
Just as in cancer, there are some cells in rheumatoid arthritis that are immune to cell death and destruction. These are called fibroblast-like synoviocytes. They are found on the lining of the joints which ensure smooth movement and flexibility.
Under the inflammatory conditions of rheumatoid arthritis, these cells begin to grow and resist cell death and thereby contribute to inflammation and joint destruction. Targeting these cells would be a stronger approach towards treating arthritis.
Interesting enough, curcumin actually targets these cells, prevents them from producing inflammatory agents and destroys these cells. Curcumin increases the activity of proteins that cause apoptosis and simultaneously reduces the level of survival proteins.
6. Turmeric interacts with genes to alleviate arthritis
Curcumin, one of the active ingredients found in turmeric, has exceptional pharmacological properties. Apart from utilising its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, curcumin also impacts the gene expression of various molecular targets in order to regulate their activity.
Transcription factors are important proteins that regulate the conversion of genetic information and research shows that curcumin acts on such transcription factors in order to deliver a therapeutic effect in arthritis and many other diseases.
Several recent studies exhibit that turmeric/curcumin delivers anti-inflammatory properties and helps modify immune system responses, which are vital for arthritis patients. A study was undertaken in the past decade also revealed how turmeric was much more effective at preventing, as well as reducing joint inflammation than alternate medications.
While individuals all have different results, it is promising to see studies supporting the use of turmeric/curcumin in treating and possibly preventing rheumatoid arthritis.
So does Turmeric cure arthritis, or just ‘mask the symptoms?
I think the answer is clear: Turmeric slows down the onset of arthritis by reducing inflammation from other sources. It slows down the progression of arthritis by the same mechanism, it reduces oxidative stress AND it takes some of the stress off damaged joints by allowing the greater activity. That is far more than ‘just masking symptoms’.