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Turmeric for Rheumatoid Arthritis: Benefits and Uses

A popular spice from India

Fast facts

  1. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric that is anti-inflammatory.
  2. While safe in high doses, curcumin isn’t absorbed well, limiting its benefits.
  3. Add black pepper (piperine) to enhance curcumin absorption.

Turmeric, or “Indian saffron,” is a bright yellow spice that comes from a tall plant with a yellow-orange stem. This golden spice isn’t just for curries and teas. Historically, traditional Indian medical practitioners used turmeric for healing. Modern research also suggests that curcumin, the active chemical in turmeric, may have beneficial properties for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms.

Curcumin is shown to be:

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antioxidant
  • anticancer
  • neuroprotective

Since RA causes the body’s defense system to attack itself, curcumin’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects may help your journey toward remission. Read on to learn if this spice can improve your symptoms and how to incorporate it into your diet.

Does turmeric work for RA symptoms?

Turmeric itself isn’t what inhibits inflammation. It’s actually curcumin, the active chemical in turmeric, that’s peaked researchers’ interests. Research shows that curcumin blocks certain enzymes and cytokines that lead to inflammation. This sheds light on the possibility of curcumin as a complementary treatment for RA.

In a small 2012 study of 45 people with RA, researchers assigned curcumin supplements to one-third of them. The other two groups received a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) called diclofenac, or a combination of both. The group that took 500 milligrams of curcumin only showed the most improvement. While promising, more and larger trials are needed for a clear understanding on the benefits of curcumin and RA.

Because turmeric in its natural form is considered safe, this supplement could be a good addition to your diet. Curcumin has benefits for inflammatory diseases, depression, and cancer. These conditions are common for people with RA.

Health conditionCan curcumin help?
cardiovascular diseasemay have protective benefits
infectionsmore research is needed
depression and anxietymay help reverse development and enhance medications
cancermay boost effects of medication
 

Read more about the benefits of turmeric »

How to take turmeric or curcumin

To get turmeric, you take the stem, or the rhizome, of the plant, and boil, dry, and ground it into powder. There are many ways you can introduce turmeric or curcumin into your diet. Research has shown that curcumin is safe in high doses. This is great news because curcumin also has poor bioavailability, which means it’s poorly absorbed. It would need to be taken at large doses for an active effect.

As a spice

You can use turmeric powder in curries, smoothies, or salads. Some of the yellow foods you eat, like mustard, may also have turmeric. But the amount may not be enough for any therapeutic effect, as turmeric is only 2 to 9 percent curcumin. Don’t forget to add some black pepper, which boosts absorption.

How to eat turmeric: Try this paleo coconut curry recipe from Train Holistic. Don’t be afraid to be heavier-handed with the turmeric if you’re looking for some anti-inflammatory benefits.

As a tea

You can buy turmeric tea on Amazon.com or make your own. To make your own turmeric tea:

  1. Boil 2 cups of water with 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.
  2. Let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Add lemon, honey, or milk to taste.

If you’re looking for an herbal tea packed with anti-inflammatory benefits, you can try McKel Hill’s turmeric tea. With RA-friendly herbs like ginger and cinnamon, it’s a warm drink that’s sure to soothe your body.

As a supplement

Curcumin supplements and capsules are the most efficient way to introduce curcumin into your diet. Many supplements also have extra ingredients such as piperine (black pepper) to enhance absorption.

For the dosage, Arthritis Foundation recommends 500 milligrams twice a day. Always talk to your doctor before taking supplements. It’s possible for curcumin supplements to interact with medications. Let your doctor know about all herbs or supplements you are taking.

What to know before taking turmeric

Curcumin and turmeric are generally safe. Talk to your doctor if you are interested in taking curcumin supplements. While there are no reports of severe effects from high doses of curcumin, it’s still possible for side effects to occur.

Curcumin may also interact with prescription drugs. This can make your medication less effective and impact your health if you have certain conditions. Check with your doctor before taking turmeric if you take medicine for:

  • diabetes
  • inflammation
  • cholesterol
  • blood thinners

Some supplements may contain piperine, which also interferes with some medications, including phenytoin (Dilantin) and propranolol (Inderal).

Should you take turmeric?

It’s possible to take turmeric for RA, but the real active ingredient is curcumin. Curcumin makes up about 2 to 9 percent of turmeric, so you may get more benefit taking supplements. Scientists are still unsure about the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. It remains an intriguing possibility for medicine in the future.

Always check with your doctor before taking turmeric or curcumin for RA symptoms.

Keep reading: The ultimate guide to herbs and supplements for RA »

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