What are turmeric and curcumin?
Turmeric (Curcuma longa or Curcuma domestica) is a plant native to South India; its root is used as a spice in curry powder and as a herb in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine.
Curcumin is the turmeric ingredient, which chemically belongs to polyphenols, gives turmeric its yellow color and supposed healing properties.
Curcumin may help reduce swelling and pain in certain inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, but more research is warranted.
Curcumin Anti-inflammatory Effects
In several laboratory and animal studies (5,11,12) and in few human clinical trials (13), curcumin had anti-inflammatory effects. According to one review of laboratory studies, curcumin can inhibit substances involved in inflammation, such as lipoxygenase, leukotrienes, prostaglandins and interleukin-12 (IL-12) (5,6).
Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain Relief
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease with joint inflammation. In one controlled clinical trial in 18 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin in an oral dose 1.2 g per day for 2 weeks was as effective in relieving morning stiffness and joint swelling as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone in a dose 300 mg per day and was more effective than a placebo (8).
Osteoarthritis Pain Relief
Osteoarthritis is age-related wear-and-tear joint damage. According to Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, turmeric is possibly effective in reducing pain in osteoarthritis and may be as effective as ibuprofen (1). According to American Family Physician, there is insufficient evidence of the effectiveness of turmeric in the treatment of osteoarthritis (2).
In one 2010 controlled clinical trial lasting for 8 months in 50 individuals with osteoarthritis, oral curcumin-phosphatidylcholine supplements (~200 mg curcumin/day) in addition to regular drug treatment for osteoarthritis was associated with a greater decrease in joint pain, stiffness and swelling than in other 50 patients receiving only regular drug treatment without curcumin (14). NOTE: A manager and another employee from the supplement-producing company were involved in the study.
In few human studies, treatment with curcumin ointments or oral drugs was associated with some improvement of psoriasis but larger studies are needed (9).
Mouth Inflammation (Oral Lichen Planus)
In one controlled clinical trial in 20 individuals with a chronic mouth inflammation (lichen planus), oral curcumin supplements in a dose 6 g per day for several months reduced symptoms of inflammation by 14-22% (16).
Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
In few animal studies and one small uncontrolled human trial, curcumin supplements improved symptoms in individuals with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (9).
In one study, 43 patients with ulcerative colitis in an inactive phase were receiving curcumin supplements in a dose 2 g per day and an anti-inflammatory drug sulfasalazine or mesalazine for 6 months, and the control group (39 patients) was receiving only mesalazine. Within 6 months, 2 patients from the curcumin treatment group and 8 patients from the no-curcumin group had a relapse of colitis. This suggests that curcumin may help prevent a relapse of ulcerative colitis, but further studies are needed (18).
Kidney Inflammation (Lupus Nephritis)
In one 2012 controlled clinical trial in 12 patients with a chronic kidney inflammation (lupus nephritis), treatment with oral turmeric supplements (22 mg curcumin/day) for 3 months was associated with greater disease improvement (reduced protein and blood loss in urine) than treatment with placebo in other 12 patients (17).
Is turmeric good for swelling (edema)?
In rat and mice studies, oral curcumin in doses 20-200 mg/kg body weight decreased carrageenan-induced paw swelling (edema) by up to 50% — the effect was similar to treatment with corticosteroids (6).
In one controlled clinical trial in 40 men, curcumin in a dose 1.2 g per day by mouth for 5 days was as effective as phenylbutazone in a dose 300 mg per day and more effective than placebo in reducing edema, tenderness and pain after surgery of an inguinal hernia or hydrocele (8).
According to Ayurveda, turmeric applied on the skin can help reduce swelling and pain due to sprained joints (4), but there seem to be no studies published to confirm this.
Other inflammatory conditions
There is INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE of the effectiveness of curcumin in the prevention or treatment of bruising, chronic anterior uveitis (inflammation of the eye iris) (20), eye infections, fibromyalgia, inflammatory and itchy skin conditions (eczema, chicken pox, shingles, allergy, scabies, acne), leech bites, leprosy, liver inflammation (hepatitis), jaundice and other liver and gallbladder problems, sprains, ringworm and wound infections in humans (1,3).
Other Potential Health Benefits
There is INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE of the effectiveness of curcumin in the prevention or treatment of Alzheimer disease, cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), headache, irritable bowel syndrome, menstrual problems, stomach ulcers or tuberculosis or in promoting weight loss (1).
Turmeric and Curcumin Supplements
Turmeric root and curcumin supplements without prescription (over-the-counter) are available as:
- Turmeric tablets or capsules
- Turmeric essential oils (liquid extracts) for oral or topical use
- Turmeric cream, paste or ointment
- Curcumin tablets or capsules, sometimes in combination with piperine (usually 5 mg), phosphatidylcholine or bromelain
- Curcumin cream
Piperine and phosphatidylcholine enhance curcumin absorption
Curcumin is poorly absorbed from the human intestine, especially when taken in doses lower than 4 g per day (8).
- In one study, adding 20 mg of piperine to 2 g of curcumin, increased the bioavailability of curcumin by 2,000% (7).
- According to one producer, phosphatidylcholine can enhance the bioavailability of curcumin by 20 times (14).
How much curcumin is in…?
|Turmeric powder spice (1 tsp, 7 g)||~140|
|Turmeric tea (1 cup, 237 mL)||~35|
|Turmeric supplements (1 tablet or capsule)||20-500|
|Curcumin supplements (1 tablet or capsule)||50-950|
|Supplements used in clinical trials for arthritis||200-2,000|
In the United States, turmeric and curcumin supplements are not considered medicines, so they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means their ingredients, purity, safety and effectiveness are not evaluated.
Turmeric and Curcumin Safety and Side Effects
Supplements containing up to 8 g (8,000 mg) of curcumin per day have not been associated with toxicity in humans (8).
Minor side effects have included stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea and dizziness (8,1). Allergic reactions to curcumin are possible.
Other potential dangers and drug interactions (1,8):
- Curcumin has been reported to increase gallbladder contractions in healthy people, so it could potentially increase pain in individuals with gallstones.
- Turmeric and curcumin supplements may slow down blood clotting so they may increase the risk of bleeding when used along with blood thinners.
- Curcumin may lower blood glucose levels in individuals with diabetes.
- Curcumin may decrease testosterone levels in men and thus increase the risk of infertility.
According to some authors, turmeric may increase the risk of abortion (10).
Turmeric may also increase menstrual bleeding (10).
- Turmeric WebMD
- Dietary supplements for osteoarthritis American Family Physician
- Turmeric, the golden healer Healthy.net
- Sprains – Useful Herbs and Ayurvedic Treatments Ayushveda
- Chainani-Wu N, 2003, Safety and anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin: a component of turmeric (Curcuma longa) PubMed
- Jurenka JS, 2009, Anti-inflammatory Properties of Curcumin, a Major Constituent of Curcuma longa: A Review of Preclinical and Clinical Research Alternative Medicine Review
- Shoba G et al, 1998, Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers PubMed
- Curcumin Linus Pauling Institute
- Aggarwal BB et al, 2008, Potential Therapeutic Effects of Curcumin, the Anti-inflammatory Agent, Against Neurodegenerative, Cardiovascular, Pulmonary, Metabolic, Autoimmune and Neoplastic Diseases PubMed Central
- Turmeric Drugs.com
- Ramadan G et al, 2011, Anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties of Curcuma longa (turmeric) versus Zingiber officinale (ginger) rhizomes in rat adjuvant-induced arthritis PubMed
- Turmeric, the golden spice National Institute of Health
- Gupta SC et al, 20113, Therapeutic roles of curcumin: lessons learned from clinical trials PubMed Central
- Henrotin Y et al, 2013, Curcumin: a new paradigm and therapeutic opportunity for the treatment of osteoarthritis: curcumin for osteoarthritis management PubMed Central
- Belcaro G et al, 2010, Efficacy and safety of Meriva ©, curcumin-phosphatydilcholine complex during extended administration in osteoarthritis patients Alternative Medicine Review
- Chainani-Wu N et al, 2012, High-dose curcuminoids are efficacious in the reduction in symptoms and signs of oral lichen planus PubMed
- Khajehdehi P et al, 2012, Oral supplementation of turmeric decreases proteinuria, hematuria, and systolic blood pressure in patients suffering from relapsing or refractory lupus nephritis: a randomized and placebo-controlled study PubMed
- Hanai H et al, 2006, Curcumin maintenance therapy for ulcerative colitis: randomized, multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
- Anderson AM et al, 2000, Isolation of Curcumin from Turmeric ACS Publications
- Allegri P et al, 2010, Management of chronic anterior uveitis relapses: efficacy of oral phospholipidic curcumin treatment. Long-term follow-up PubMed Central