Healthy Fuel: Turmeric + Rheumatoid Arthritis = a healing companion

BeInkandescent Healthy Fuel Series: November 2020 — This just in from Lene Andersen, an author, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. She has lived with rheumatoid arthritis since she was four years old and used her experience to help others with chronic illness. She has written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain. She is also a contributor to the award-winning blog, The Seated View.

She explains: Turmeric is a popular spice at the moment, both in recipes and as an alternative treatment for several conditions. You may have heard that it can help rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and may even work better than medication. In this slideshow, we look more closely at the background, the claims, and the facts.

What is turmeric? Turmeric is a golden-colored and strongly flavored spice that has been used in cooking for several thousand years. Originating in Asia, turmeric is extracted from the plant Curcuma longa’s root, which grows in India and Indonesia. It has been used medicinally for almost 5,000 years in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat arthritis.

Curcumin: Curcumin is the part of turmeric that creates its golden color and has been reported to have healing qualities. Curcumin has shown promise when used in pro-inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, cancer, irritable bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and more. In-depth studies have looked into the safety and efficacy of curcumin. The medicinal ingredients of curcumin modulate signaling pathways in numerous cells. It has specific properties that block inflammatory enzymes and cytokines. These include cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), which also is targeted by the NSAID celecoxib.

Turmeric and arthritis in animal studies: Animal studies utilizing turmeric extract have demonstrated an anti-inflammatory effect on joints. A 2010 study was built on previous research and investigated whether turmeric essential oils protected the rats’ joints. The results were positive, indicating a potential for a positive effect on humans, but more research is needed.

Turmeric and arthritis in human studies: Curcumin has been shown to have a beneficial effect for both RA and osteoarthritis (OA). Two small studies of people with RA showed that curcumin was as effective as NSAIDs or, more so, showed no adverse effects, and reduced C-reactive protein levels. It’s important to note that larger studies with a double-blind design are needed.

Using Turmeric for Rheumatoid Arthritis: Studies indicate that turmeric can effectively treat rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation, and pain. It is important to note the effects of turmeric are similar to NSAIDs. That is, it can treat the symptoms of RA, but not the cause. Also, research has studied turmeric’s effect on joints, but not on RA’s systemic impact. To suppress RA or to go into remission, DMARDs and Biologics are still needed.

Adverse effects: Turmeric is lauded as safe, and studies indicate that it is safer than NSAIDs. However, turmeric has a blood-thinning effect and could interact with other blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin and warfarin. Avoid turmeric if you’re having surgery or are pregnant and if you have gallbladder disease.

How to use turmeric: Turmeric can be used in three different ways. You can use it in spice form by adding it to salads and curries. Turmeric is fat-soluble, so mix it with healthy fat. If you’re taking it as a supplement, using capsules or extract may reduce the risk of contaminants. The dosage for those with RA is 500 mg daily.

Making good choices with alternative treatment: It can be exciting to hear of a natural substance working well and safely for RA, but it’s important to research these statements. With turmeric, research shows that it may be effective for symptoms, but not for RA itself. It also is shown to have side effects and possible interactions. Ask your doctor or a licensed naturopath before using it.