We’ve discussed inflammation lots of times on this blog. It’s causes, symptoms and impacts. In this post, we’re going to discuss the different types of arthritis, and how turmeric supplements can help with the symptoms.
There are two main types of arthritis – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis and cartilage
Osteoarthritis is the most common of the two – roughly one-third of the British population aged 45 years and over have sought treatment for osteoarthritis. This equates to around 8 million people in the UK alone dealing with stiffness, tenderness, loss of flexibility and pain in their joints.
Joints are where our bones meet, think of our knees, ankles, wrists, elbows etc. But within these joints, our bones don’t touch each other. Instead, the gaps are filled with a firm, protective material called cartilage. This allows the bones to smoothly slide over each other. Everything is then held together with muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Cartilage is a powerful shock absorber. Imagine cartilage as like a bar of soap. Soap makes it easy to slide on almost any surface, but just like a bar of soap, the more we use it, the more it reduces in size. It’s exactly this type of wear and tear of our cartilage that causes osteoarthritis. It usually affects hips, knees, fingers and feet, but it may occur in other joints as well.
Once the cartilage starts to wear out, the tissues holding the joints together must compensate. This leads to swelling and the formation of ‘osteophytes’, or, small, bony growths, which in turn causes the pain and loss of freedom of movement. Cruelly, this then leads to inflamed joints, a typical symptom of rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis usually develops at around 45 years old and is more common in women than men. It can develop in younger people with a family history or a history of joint injuries or problems such as gout.
Being overweight, not exercising enough and having a job that requires repetitive movements of a specific joint are all risk factors for osteoarthritis. As is having a sedentary lifestyle that doesn't regularly put your joints through their full range of motion.
Rheumatoid arthritis and inflammation
If osteoarthritis is caused by ‘mechanical’ problems with cartilage, conversely, rheumatoid arthritis is caused when a sufferer’s own immune system attacks their joints, causing inflammation and swelling. This then causes the cartilage to break down. The resulting symptoms; joint pain, swelling, difficulty in moving, are very similar. More than 400,000 people suffer with rheumatoid arthritis in the UK and it usually begins between 40 and 50 years old.
Beyond curry – how turmeric can help treat the symptoms of arthritis
Turmeric is from the ginger family of plants. When turmeric’s roots are dried and ground, it becomes the spice so popular in Indian, Asian and Bangladeshi cooking. It’s the cornerstone of curries!
But turmeric is much more than that. There have been numerous studies into the effects of turmeric on the symptoms of the inflammation associated with arthritis.
It turns out that this plant contains over a hundred active ingredients, including curcumin which is known to be one of nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatory compounds. In fact, turmeric has been used in medicine for almost 4000 years. And for good reason.
In our post on ‘How does turmeric help with inflammation’ we discussed the role that cytokines play in inflammation. Cytokines are chemicals released by the white blood cells during the inflammatory response. They protect us from infections and foreign objects such as splinters. They cause the heat and swelling we’ve all experienced, as our body fights the invasion - a good thing. However, in chronic inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, this inflammation doesn’t stop and we experience pain and swelling. One of these cytokines is called TNF. Therefore, drugs called TNF blockers are often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. These drugs are expensive, must be injected, and cause side effects. Studies have shown curcumin to be an effective, and safe, TNF blocker.
One paper has gone so far as to say “the low cost, pharmacological safety, proven therapeutic efficacy and multiple targeting potential make curcumin a promising agent for prevention and treatment of various human diseases” such as arthritis. Another paper suggests a “compelling justification for [curcumin’s] use as a dietary adjunct to conventional therapy” and furthermore provides “sufficient evidence to support larger clinical trials that could eventually lead to its acceptance as a standard therapy for many forms of arthritis”.
To discover exactly how curcumin has this anti-inflammatory effect on joint arthritis, one study applied ‘metabolomics’. Metabolomics analyses all the tiny compounds (metabolites) that are formed during metabolism – the chemical reactions that are going on in our bodies all the time, i.e. breaking down our food into nutrients. This study found that curcumin allowed more metabolism of amino acids and fatty acids, suggesting that it could be a reduction in the metabolism of these compounds that could explain joint inflammation.
Another exciting area of research is the role curcumin plays in the prevention of cartilage breakdown. This anti-catabolic (anti-breakdown) effect is now causing curcumin to be considered as a very real treatment of osteoarthritis, along with its anti-inflammatory effects as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. This ancient spice may well become a ‘drug’ of the future. Which is odd, when you think that turmeric, one of nature’s most powerful spices has been used as such in Ayurveda (Indian medicine) for centuries.
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are serious and complex conditions. Turmeric can’t cure it or completely prevent them. But it can provide powerful support and along with conventional medicine, can help you feel better. It can reduce inflammation and pain, and help you live your life as you want and deserve. And even better that it’s a completely natural solution that could reduce your dependence on as many anti-inflammatory medications.
Turmeric supplements could be your most powerful ally against the discomfort of arthritis. If you could choose between chemicals that are heavy on the body, and a plant which is proven to work in a gentle, yet effective way…
...what would you pick?
Aggarwal, Bharat B, et al. “Curcumin: an Orally Bioavailable Blocker of TNF and Other pro-Inflammatory Biomarkers.” British Journal of Pharmacology, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Aug. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3753829/.
Zhou, Hongyu, et al. “Targets of Curcumin.” Current Drug Targets, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Mar. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3025067/.
Ahn, Joong Kyong, et al. “Metabolomic Elucidation of the Effects of Curcumin on Fibroblast-Like Synoviocytes in Rheumatoid Arthritis.” PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696817/.
Daily, James W., et al. “Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and Curcumin for Alleviating the Symptoms of Joint Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials.” Journal of Medicinal Food, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., 1 Aug. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5003001/.
Mobasheri, Ali, et al. “Scientific Evidence and Rationale for the Development of Curcumin and Resveratrol as Nutraceutricals for Joint Health.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Molecular Diversity Preservation International (MDPI), 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3344210/.
Turmeric is one of the top superfoods in the modern world. This spice is hailed as the king of anti-inflammatory foods. Most people believe that turmeric's benefits are all because of one single compound known as curcumin. But we have looked into the research of turmeric and curcumin. The truth is a very different story to what many may believe.