Is Arthritis Pain Relief as Close as Your Spice Rack?

By Amy Norton
HealthDay reporter

MONDAY, September 14, 2020 (HealthDay News) – This is a must-have for any good curry, and a new clinical trial suggests turmeric may provide relief from arthritis pain, too.

Researchers found that a spiced turmeric extract worked better than a placebo in relieving knee arthritis pain for three months. Treatment wasn’t a rush at home – but pain relief was a bit better than previous studies found with standard medications.

All of this suggests that turmeric “may be considered an option” for osteoarthritis of the knee, said lead researcher Dr Benny Antony of the Menzies Institute for Medical Research / University of Tasmania in Australia.

Osteoarthritis is extremely common, affecting more than 32.5 million Americans, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis of the knee is one of the main forms.

The condition occurs when the cartilage cushioning the knee joint deteriorates over time, leading to symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion.

People with arthritis of the knee often take over-the-counter pain relievers, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve). But apart from being moderately effective, they can cause side effects like upset stomach. And prolonged use is linked to increased risks of heart disease and kidney damage.

So it’s important to have other options, said Dr Houman Danesh, a pain management specialist who was not in the study.

“This is a promising and encouraging study,” said Danesh, who leads integrative pain management at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

A larger point of the results, he noted, is that what people with arthritis ingest matters. Turmeric, or extracts from it, is believed to be anti-inflammatory. So if people continue to eat an inflammation-promoting diet – full of fried foods and highly processed carbohydrates, for example – it might negate the good of adding turmeric, Danesh said.

For the present study, Antony and his colleagues recruited 70 people with arthritis of the knee and randomly assigned them to one of two groups. We took Curcuma longa extract the capsules daily for 12 weeks; the other took placebo capsules.


Curcumin is a substance in turmeric and the beneficial activities of turmeric are often attributed to it. The supplement maker Natural Remedies provided the capsules for the trial and partially funded it.

After 12 weeks, the researchers found that participants using the extract reported greater improvement in their pain compared to the placebo group. The average benefit was “modest,” according to Antony, but still better than previous studies found with pain relievers.

However, there was no clear effect on some MRI results: swelling of the joint space and composition of the knee cartilage.

Danesh didn’t find this surprising, noting that he wouldn’t expect to see these effects.

And people’s experience of pain doesn’t necessarily correlate with the joint findings seen on MRI.

“A picture is like a sentence in history,” Danesh said. “There is also a whole context around that.”

The results, published online September 14 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, are a first step. Antony said larger studies are still needed and it remains to be seen whether pain relief holds up over time.

But turmeric is worth a try, according to Antony. In general, he said, spices (and curcumin extracts) are considered safe in moderate doses – although very high doses can cause gastrointestinal upset.

Danesh said his advice is to try turmeric itself rather than an extract. He also recommended adding black pepper, which enhances the benefits of turmeric. To make it palatable, the two could be blended into a fruit smoothie, Danesh said.

Turmeric isn’t the only non-drug option for knee pain, however. Danesh said people can benefit from an exercise program that focuses on strengthening and activating the gluteal muscles and developing a more balanced walking pattern.

He suggested getting assessed by a doctor first, which could result in a recommendation for physical therapy.

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SOURCES: Benny Antony, MD, PhD, principal investigator, Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia; Houman Danesh, MD, associate professor, anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and director, integrative pain management, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City;Annals of Internal Medicine, September 14, 2020, online

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