Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a culinary spice that is a major ingredient in Indian curries and is the component that makes American mustard yellow. Accumulating evidence suggests that this brightly colored relative of ginger is a promising disease-preventive agent as well, probably due largely to its anti-inflammatory properties. And at least one new study suggests that it can be used effectively for arthritis treatment.
This research, from Italy, was a three-month trial involving 50 patients diagnosed by x-ray with osteoarthritis of the knee. The Italian team was investigating the effect on arthritis symptoms of a special formulation of turmeric designed to improve its absorption by the body. Half the participating patients took the turmeric formulation in addition to standard medical treatment; those in the second group continued following their physicians' recommendations.
After 90 days, the researchers found a 58 percent decrease in overall reported pain and stiffness as well as an improvement in physical functioning among the turmeric group compared to the controls. These changes were documented with a standard medical scoring method used to assess symptoms of knee and hip osteoarthritis. In addition, another scoring method showed a 300 percent improvement in the emotional well being of the turmeric patients compared with the others. And blood tests showed a 16-fold decline in C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation. Patients in the turmeric group were able to reduce their use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs by 63 percent, compared to the other group.
Results of this study are very good news for the millions of people worldwide who suffer from osteoarthritis and haven't been adequately helped by available treatments. The dose of the turmeric formulation used in the study was one gram per day. It is now commercially available in the United States and Europe.
Turmeric may also be useful for prevention of symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, but this evidence comes from animal studies, not human trials.
Research also suggests that turmeric may prevent changes that lead to Alzheimer's disease, and animal studies have shown that turmeric may be effective in the prevention or treatment of colon, breast and prostate cancers.
Andrew Weil, M.D.