Tumeric Could Help Treat Arthritis-Related Knee Pain

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There's new evidence that relief for chronic joint pain could be found in your spice rack.

Turmeric, a brightly-colored spice common in curries and related to ginger root, has been shown to relieve pain from knee osteoarthritis better than a placebo, according to a small study published September 14 in Annals of Internal Medicine. 

Researchers from the University of Tasmania in Australia studies 70 patients over 40 years old with knee osteoarthritis who were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Half the patients received two capsules with a total of 1000 mg of turmeric each day for 12 weeks, while the other half received a placebo. 

They found that patients who took turmeric reported significantly less knee pain overall at the end of the study, according to a standardized questionnaire. They also experienced better knee function and less pain during use, so much so that four participants stopped or decreased other pain medications, and none of the patients taking turmeric reported any side effects. 

However, turmeric wasn't effective for treating other aspects of knee osteoarthritis, such as physical function of the knee, fluid buildup, or knee cartilage health, researchers found. 

Turmeric has long been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to treat arthritis, and research as found that the active ingredients, a compound called curcumin, has well-documented anti-inflammatory properties. 

There were several limitations to this study.

First, it was funded by a natural products company out of India that sells a turmeric supplement for knee pain. Though this funder was not involved in the design, analysis, or publication of the study, financial ties to research typically present a potential conflict of interest.

Second, the study is relatively small, and the 12-week time period wasn't enough to understand the potential long-term effects of the treatment, so more research is needed.

However, the results are supported by previous evidence that shows curcumin has promise for treating osteoarthritis. A 2016 review of 8 studies found that curcumin appears to be as effective as pain medications like ibuprofen for treating knee pain; however, the review concluded that most of the studies had a moderate risk of bias, and more rigorous research should be done to draw conclusions about whether curcumin can effectively treat knee pain. 

This research is promising because while knee osteoarthritis affects approximately 250 million people worldwide, there are few available medications to effectively treat it, and existing therapies can have side effects like digestive issues, bloating, and heartburn. 

This adds to existing evidence that turmeric, and curcumin, in particular, are a safe way to reap many health benefits, including antioxidant effects, staving off chronic illnesses like cancer and heart disease, and even promoting cognitive health. 

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