Recent studies have found that turmeric, a flavorful spice popular in India, may help relieve joint pain. The spice is popular in Ayurvedic medicine, but is mainly used in food in the United States and not as a medication.
Experts say that there is increasingly clear evidence that the active ingredient in turmeric may have health benefits.
“It is widely believed that curcumin, which is the active ingredient in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. And for this reason, it’s frequently used as a supplement by many people to help with joint symptoms,” Dr. Nagendra Gupta, FACP, CPE, an internist at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, told Healthline.
A study publishedTrusted Source in the medical journal Trials compared the effectiveness of turmeric to that of an anti-inflammatory drug called diclofenac.
The randomized trial gave 139 patients with knee pain either a 500-milligram (mg) capsule of curcumin three times a day or a 50-mg diclofenac pill twice daily. Scientists found that both groups experienced significant pain relief.
“Curcumin has similar efficacy to diclofenac but demonstrated better tolerance among patients with knee OA. Curcumin can be an alternative treatment option in the patients with knee OA who are intolerant to the side effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,” the study authors wrote.
Turmeric (Curcuma Longa) is a frequently used spice in South Asian foods like curries, and it can add a warm orange or yellow color to meats and rice dishes. It also has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine.
The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, and research finds that it “has a surprisingly wide range of beneficial properties.”
Curcumin, unlike some NSAIDs, has also been determined to be nontoxic. NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, taken in excess can cause symptoms that include convulsions, coma, and acute renal (kidney) failure.
Experts say that given turmeric’s known health benefits, including it in meals is best.
Eating turmeric with fats or oils can improve absorption.
“Turmeric however, specifically the phytonutrient curcumin, has so many health benefits, so definitely incorporating turmeric into meals would be ideal as part of an overall healthy lifestyle plan,” said Reema Kanda, RD, a clinical dietitian at Hoag Orthopedic Institute.
“Incorporating turmeric into meals that contain fats and oils or black pepper will enhance absorption.”