Arthritis Pain

Turmeric for pain, inflammation and arthritis

By Kim Crawford, M.D. Last updated: April 20, 2020

Turmeric for pain and arthritis relief?

turmeric for pain

Turmeric for pain dates back to ancient Ayurvedic Medicine. Almost 2500 years ago scientists described the benefits of turmeric for pain and inflammation. The medicinal use of turmeric for pain and arthritis originated in the Indian subcontinent.

Today it is used throughout the world as a health food supplement, food colorant and cosmetic ingredient. However, modern science has made it possible to extract turmeric’s unique compounds. Those compounds are obtained from the dried rhizomes of Curcuma longa (Turmeric).

The compounds are known as curcuminoids. It is those active curcuminoid or curcumin compounds which allow people to use turmeric for pain, inflammation, and arthritis.

In fact, if one were to use turmeric for pain it would take so much of this spice that it would severely upset your GI tract. So, now we have curcumin, not turmeric to use for various conditions. The most common use is for treatment of internal inflammation.

This is something you may not be (probably not) aware of that you likely have because it causes no symptoms until it causes a disease.

Even if you are reading this article to learn about turmeric for pain or rather curcuminoids for pain, it is super important you read about internal inflammation for many reasons. The first reason is that internal inflammation often leads to pain.

Note while the “pain focus” will be on arthritis, the benefits of turmeric or curcuminoids for pain applies to not just arthritis but any soft tissue or bony pain. Curcumin is high on the list of fibromyalgia natural treatments and many more painful conditions. It’s also great for just plain muscle soreness relief.

What exactly is internal inflammation?

“Acute” inflammation is a good thing. Think about what happens when you get a finger splinter. If you leave the splinter in your finger, the whole area will be red and puffy. The redness and puffiness is simply your immune system “coming to the rescue.”  Part of the rescue mission is to help keep pathogens out of your body so they won’t make you sick. With any sort of  physical injury, if you leave the inflamed area alone, the swelling will go down and everything will go back to normal.

internal inflammationBut now imagine if you kept stabbing away at yourself with splinters. Not just that, but think of the consequences if you stabbed yourself in the same exact spot. I know you wouldn’t do this, but I’m making a point.

The inflammation would never abate because you’d be constantly re-injuring yourself. That’s analogous to what is going on with chronic internal inflammation. However, the big difference is that you cannot feel the chronically stabbing splinters.

The inflammatory response is designed to be short and complete. When it’s chronic, though, inflammation becomes a serious problem. It stops your body from working well and can also contribute to many  other  health problems including being one of the causes of osteoarthritis.

Causes of chronic inflammation:

Your weight:

If you are obese or overweight you have internal inflammation. Overweight or obese people have more elevated inflammatory markers than do people of the same age who are not obese or overweight. The flip side is true as well. Inflammation drops when people lose weight. Researchers in Seattle, Washington found that postmenopausal women who were overweight or obese who lost 5% or more of their body weight had significant falls in levels of markers of inflammation.

Your diet:

General Content:

Foods which are processed just like sugar and hence “inflammatory” are a big part of the All-American diet. These foods are ubiquitous; high-processed carbohydrates, sugary foods, high-saturated fat, high-gluten, and pretty much all fast foods. This poor eating pattern also causes oxidative stress which in turn worsens inflammation.

Excessive omega-6 intake:

you won't have relief of arthritis pain if you eat meatInflammatory eicosanoids are a main part of the inflammatory response. Omega-6 fats form the precursors for those eicosanoids.

High omega-6 intake translates to excessive production of inflammatory eicosanoids and more inflammation. Omega 6 fatty acids are found mainly in meats. The effect is so pronounced that when I take my arthritis patients off of meats, that alone makes a difference.

Insufficient omega-3 intake:

The precursors for anti-inflammatory eicosanoids are omega-3 fatty acids. You might know them as the “good fats” or the “fish fats.” Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation is used to counteract inflammation and pain as well as to help prevent coronary artery disease.

The things that cause you stress also cause inflammation:

Work, the bills that mount up, or discord at home or at work all adds up. If it becomes too much for you to handle, your cortisol levels will go up. When this happens it’s because your body is having a physical inflammatory response to emotional stress. Our lack of outdoor compared to indoor time also increases stress levels. Our lack of “real down time” also increases our stress. When you’re constantly checking your Twitter/Facebook accounts you are not relaxing, right? When you hear an electronic “notice” (PINGGGG!) and do a Pavlovian rush to answer a text or email on your smartphone, you are  “on.” You may think you’re relaxing because you’re sitting down or even lying down, but you’re not relaxing.

Your exercise and movement patterns:

Most people lead sedentary lives, and most people have chronic inflammation. Insufficient exercise or even movement contributes to inflammation. In fact, a lack of activity is strongly linked to systemic, low-grade inflammation. Due to all of our technological advances, people don’t have to walk to get places. We can take escalators, elevators and even those “people-movers” that are substituting for just plain walking. If this is you, you need to just plain move more.

Poor recovery and/or Overtraining:

one of the best natural treatments for fibromyalgia is weight trainingOther people exercise too much, with too little rest and recovery time. Overtraining can turn into a form of chronic inflammation. This is rampant in the elite triathlon population (as I was) unless many precautions are taken.

Overtraining is also common in bodybuilders.

Bodybuilders have lots of unaddressed inflammation and high cortisol levels.

I consult via this website for quite a few elites who have all done much better health-wise and award/ranking-wise since I have been advising them.

Lack of sleep also causes inflammation:

Let’s circle back for a moment. Those of you who came to this blog to read about the use of  turmeric for pain might be thinking, hey, when is she going to get to the point? Well, the point IS that inflammation and pain are intimately linked. So, just bear with me and I’ll be done with the treatise on inflammation quite soon.

Poor sleep is a chronic problem in America. Predictably enough, poor sleep is linked to elevated markers of inflammation.

Either we go to bed too late, wake up too early, or have interrupted sleep. We also use too many electronic gadgets late at night and therefore disrupt the quality of the sleep we get.

 Lastly- Poor GI tract health:

a fibromyalgia natural treatment is good probioticsThe GI tract is host to the bulk of the human immune system.

When it’s unhealthy or “unbalanced,” so is your inflammatory regulation. A healthy human being in 2020 MUST be someone who takes prebiotics and probiotics.

The role of the GI “microbiome” in our total health is increasingly more elucidated, and the evidence points to more and more importance of a healthy “gut.”

Now, in the next section, I will get to the pain part of the turmeric for pain and for many of you who landed here the arthritis part. Promise! I just didn’t want you to miss the information on inflammation.

Curcumin lowers inflammation:

Inflammation is an enormous contributing factor for many diseases. It contributes to obesity which then increases inflammation even more. It greatly increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease. First, we know it also increases the risk of cancer.

We know that inflammation really increases the risk for  Alzheimer’s and this is where some of the really exciting benefits of curcumin lie. We know that skin aging is caused by skin inflammation which is caused mostly by internal inflammation. So, you just can’t get away from wanting to decrease total body inflammation. You can see that, can’t you?

The three main ‘markers’ of inflammation you should ask your doctor to test are insulin (total body inflammation) and CRP (coronary inflammation) as well as fibrinogen (inflammation and clotting propensity). If your doctor is clueless, it’s because he/she isn’t trained. If you get a Dr.Kim Crawford consult and labs, of course, we’ll measure these and even more! So, curcumin is extremely helpful to normalize those inflammatory biomarkers.

Curcumin for the pain and inflammation of arthritis:

Curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce joint pain, inflammation and stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Both clinical studies and even in statements from the Arthritis Association convey this. The yellow powder from the root of the turmeric plant contains those potent curcuminoids we talked about. Therefore, turmeric for pain of arthritis is accomplished though blocking cytokines and enzymes that cause inflammation. I’ll go more into this when I discuss how exactly the curcumin works.

help for arthritis2010 reasearch finding showed long-term improvement in pain and functioning for 100 patients with knee osteoarthritis in the knee after taking a  curcumin supplement. A study in 2012 revealed curcumin worked better at reducing joint swelling and pain for patients than a NSAID or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

A study in patients with rheumatoid arthritis compared the anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin (1200 mg/day) with phenylbutazone, (300 mg/day). Please DO note this is quite a low dose of curcumin, compared to what I recommend for internal inflammation, brain vitamins and supplements and cures for arthritis pain. The curcumin therapy resulted in clinically significant improvements in arthritis pain when compared to the non-steroidal drug. Curcumin was rated superior for the relief of morning stiffness and joint swelling.

It also sped up the gait to improve walking times. As a big bonus, the curcumin was well-tolerated and produced zero side-effects. Yes, I know this study was done with R.A. patients but you can certainly extrapolate the results to inflammatory osteoarthritis with it’s associated pain, stiffness, joint swelling and slowing of gait.

How does curcumin work to help “regular” arthritis?

I thought you would want to know the basics of this and will try not to get all that technical on you. I think this is fabulous because traditional arthritis drugs harm the kidneys, liver, and colon. And of course, curcumin does not.

Curcumin is a safe COX-1, COX-2 and LOX Inhibitor:

First, let me remind you that curcumin per se is only one of the three major curcuminoids found in the spice turmeric. If you have a good curcumin supplement (as we of course do) it will have the 3 major curcuminoids, be non-GMO and have GMP certification. A good supplement will indeed suppress inflammation and pain.

It works via blocking the arachidonic acid cascade through the cyclooxygenase (COX-1) pathway. This is the pathway also blocked by aspirin.

Research shows curcumin also inhibits COX-2, another pro-inflammatory substance. COX-1 and COX-2 are blocked by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

There are some NSAID’s which selectively block the COX-2 pathway, citing less GI side effects as an advantage. In five different clinical studies, curcumin has worked equally as well as steroid medication or the non-steroidal phenylbutazone for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and post-operative inflammation.

Another pain pathway (also via inhibition of the arachidonic acid cascade) is the LOX pathway. This reduces the amount of inflammatory leukotrienes. LOX inhibition medications are common in the treatment of asthma but LOX inhibition is also in some arthritis medication. Curcumin studies reveal excellent LOX inhibition with curcumin.

The conclusion is that curcumin has similar anti-inflammatory action as NSAIDS, but without side effects. In fact, curcumin is safe at doses as high as 8,000 mg per day.

In fact, this happens to be the dosage cancer studies use. COX-inhibitors and non-steroidals have dangerous side-effects. COX-2 inhibitors are required to include black-box warnings. However, a good quality curcumin or as you went looking for-turmeric derived supplement could be just what the anti-aging doctor ordered for you.


I will say that our “cumetra” is the strongest curcumin on the planet and might be enough for mild arthritis-pain once in a while. Everyone is different, so I just can’t predict on a blog who will or will not respond 100%.

What I can tell you is that after spending my initial years as a critical care Internist and then many more years as an Internist, drugs cause lots of problems. If you can “get the job done” without drugs, that’s what you should do, in my opinion.


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