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The Spice That Helps Ease Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain

According to the World Health Organization, “80% of the Earth’s inhabitants (seven billion) rely upon the traditional medicine for their primary health-care needs, in part due to high cost of Western pharmaceuticals. Medicines derived from plants have played a pivotal role in the health care of both ancient and modern cultures.” One of the prime sources of plant-derived medicines is spices. Turmeric, for example, has been consumed over the years around the world. Turmeric is known by different names in different societies—my favorite of which is probably “zard-choobag.”

Turmeric is the dried powdered root stalks of the turmeric plant—a member of the ginger family—from which the orangey-yellow pigment curcumin can be extracted. The spice turmeric is what makes curry powder yellow, and curcumin is what makes turmeric yellow. If you click on the above video, you can see the molecular structure of curcumin. I always thought it kind of looked like a crab.

In recent years, more than 5,000 articles have been published in the medical literature about curcumin. Many sport impressive looking diagrams suggesting curcumin can benefit a multitude of conditions via a dizzying array of mechanisms.

Curcumin was first isolated more than a century ago, but out of the thousands of experiments, just a handful in the 20th century were clinical studies, involving actual human participants. Most of the 5,000 were just in vitro lab studies, which I’ve resisted covering until the studies moved out of the petri dish and into the person. But since the turn-of-the-century, more than 50 clinical trials have been done, testing curcumin against a variety of human diseases, with 84 more on the way. One such study, which I profile in the above video, got my attention.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic systemic inflammatory disorder that causes progressive destruction of the cartilage and bone of joints. The long-term prognosis of RA is poor, with as much as 80% of patients affected becoming disabled with a reduced life expectancy. There are lots of drugs one can take, but unfortunately they’re often associated with severe side effects including blood loss, bone loss and bone marrow suppression, and toxicity to the liver and eyes.

The efficacy of curcumin was first demonstrated over 30 years ago in a double-blind crossover study: curcumin versus phenylbutazone, a powerful anti-inflammatory that is used in race horses. Both groups showed significant improvement in morning stiffness, walking time, and joint swelling, with the complete absence of any side effects from curcumin (which is more than can be said for phenylbutazone, which was pulled from the market three years later after wiping out people’s immune systems and their lives).

In the new study, 45 patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis were randomized into three groups: curcumin, the standard of care drug, or both. The primary endpoint was a reduction in disease activity as well as a reduction in joint tenderness and swelling. All three groups got better, but interestingly the curcumin groups showed the highest percentage of improvement, significantly better than those in the drug group. The findings are significant and demonstrate that curcumin alone was not only safe and effective, but surprisingly more effective in alleviating pain compared to the leading drug of choice, all without any adverse side effects. In fact, curcumin appeared protective against drug side effects, given that there were more adverse reactions in the drug group than in the combined drug and curcumin group. In contrast to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), curcumin has no gastrointestinal side effects, and may even protect the lining of the stomach.

I’m afraid followers of NutritionFacts.org are going to get sick of turmeric, but there’s a load of important new research I felt I needed to cover. I cover Turmeric Curcumin and Osteoarthritis, Boosting the Bioavailability of Curcumin and Who Shouldn’t Consume Curcumin or Turmeric?

I’ve previously talked about treating autoimmune joint inflammation with diets full of plants in Diet & Rheumatoid Arthritis and Potassium and Autoimmune Disease.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Related:
Plant-Based Diets for Rheumatoid Arthritis
The Safety of Tarragon
Half of Doctors Give Placebos

Read more: Health, Arthritis, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, General Health, Healthy Aging, Men's Health, Natural Remedies, Videos, Women's Health, , , ,

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at NutritionFacts.org.

108 comments

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11:14AM PST on Jan 30, 2015

I have lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and eat turmeric everyday. I also love ginger in my green tea. Hate the phenomenally expensive drugs I have to take so I can move. Just came home from the doctor who told me now I need 2 hip replacements. Wow. My whole body feels like I keep replacing parts. But I am very grateful to be alive. I hope turmeric and ginger will help others.

1:02PM PDT on Oct 1, 2014

My sister just found out she has rheumatoid arthritis. I am sending her this article!
Thanks for the info.

9:04PM PDT on Aug 10, 2014

Thanks for the info! I will now carry it in my apothecary!

9:22AM PDT on Aug 5, 2014

turmeric is great, thanks

11:02PM PDT on Aug 4, 2014

thanks

3:04AM PDT on Jul 25, 2014

Thanks For This Info.

5:14AM PDT on Jul 24, 2014

Turmeric... I have to try it...
Thank you doc :)

7:04PM PDT on Jul 21, 2014

Turmeric is great for the liver too. And tastes great!

1:37AM PDT on Jul 21, 2014

Zard-choobag is possibly the best word I have heard in ages :))

An Indian friend told me that Turmeric also needs to be heated. Next time you make a vegetable soup, fry your Turmeric in a little oil with a grind of black pepper before adding it to your veggies and stock to turn your soup into a golden vegetable soup. I use about a teaspoon or slightly more in a pot of soup (to taste really). Herbs and spices can burn easily so keep your eye on it. Fry for just a couple of minutes on medium heat.

9:56PM PDT on Jul 20, 2014

Stock up the pantry

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