Rheumatoid Arthritis and Curcumin, What Studies Show
If you currently take over-the-counter or prescription medications to treat pain and other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may want to consider spicing up your life a bit. Numerous experts have explored the risks and benefits of using curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, for rheumatoid arthritis, and here's a review of what they've found so far.
You can manage rheumatoid arthritis naturally
Approximately 1 percent of people in the United States have rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects women two to three times more than men. Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by inflammation of the lining in the joints, which results in an accumulation of fluid.
As the joint lining expands, the adjacent bone becomes damaged, resulting in pain, swelling, and limited movement. Joints of the fingers are most often affected, although the disease also can spread to the toes, ankles, knees, elbows, hips, and shoulders. In some people, RA also affects the eyes, lungs, heart, blood, nerves, and skin.
Curcumin is the main curcuminoid (a complex of natural substances) in turmeric and a yellowish pigment that is considered by many experts to be the most important compound in the spice, largely because of its anti-inflammatory properties. A number of studies support the use of curcumin in relieving inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Studies of rheumatoid arthritis and curcumin
For example, the authors of a new study published in Phytotherapy Research reported that their work "provides the first evidence for the safety and superiority of curcumin treatment in patients with active RA [rheumatoid arthritis]." In the clinical study, the researchers randomly assigned 45 patients to three groups: 500 mg curcumin daily, 50 mg diclofenac sodium daily (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug; Voltaren among other brands), or both curcumin and diclofenac.
Based on results from the Disease Activity Score (DAS) 28 and the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria, individuals in all three treatment groups experienced significant improvements in their DAS scores. However, patients in the curcumin group had the highest percentage of improvement in both DAS and ACR scores, and they were even better than the scores in the diclofenac group.
This study also reported that curcumin was not found to cause any adverse reactions. This is an important factor when treating rheumatoid arthritis, as the drugs currently prescribed are associated with significant side effects.
Another recent study took a more basic approach. The Journal of Clinical Immunology recently (November 2012) reported on a study that explored how curcumin works, at a cellular level, to relieve RA symptoms. The scientists' work suggests that curcumin has the ability to suppress production of a specific B cell-activating factor involved in rheumatoid arthritis.
In a recent issue of the International Journal of Molecular Science, a team of experts reviewed the literature on the potential preventive abilities of phytochemicals such as curcumin and resveratrol in rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. For those who are interested in what is known so far about how curcumin can inhibit production of inflammatory substances such as prostaglandin E2 and induce cell death, this may be the article to read.
Although there is still much to be learned about curcumin and its benefits and risks for patients with rheumatoid arthritis, some of the findings thus far have been promising. Anyone who has RA who is interested in taking curcumin should consult a trusted healthcare provider and discuss their options.
Chandran B, Goel A. A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytotherapy Research 2012 Nov; 26(11): 1719-25
Huang G et al. Curcumin protects against collagen-induced arthritis via suppression of BAFF production. Journal of Clinical Immunology 2012 Nov. 27
Mobasheri A et al. Scientific evidence and rationale for the development of curcumin and resveratrol as nutraceuticals for joint health. International Journal of Molecular Science 2012; 13(4): 4202-32