Research suggests turmeric and its components can potentially alleviate arthritis inflammation and pain. 1 Yang W, Fu J, Yu M, Wang D, Rong Y, Yao P, Nüssler AK, Yan H, Liu L. Effects of three kinds of curcuminoids on anti-oxidative system and membrane deformation of human peripheral blood erythrocytes in high glucose levels. Cell Physiol Biochem. 2015;35(2):789-802. doi: 10.1159/000369738. Epub 2015 Jan 30. PubMed PMID: 25634758. , 2 Funk JL, Oyarzo JN, Frye JB, Chen G, Lantz RC, Jolad SD, Sólyom AM, Timmermann BN. Turmeric extracts containing curcuminoids prevent experimental rheumatoid arthritis. J Nat Prod. 2006 Mar;69(3):351-5. PubMed PMID: 16562833; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2533857. , 3 Nakagawa Y, Mukai S, Yamada S, Matsuoka M, Tarumi E, Hashimoto T, Tamura C, Imaizumi A, Nishihira J, Nakamura T. Short-term effects of highly-bioavailable curcumin for treating knee osteoarthritis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled prospective study. J Orthop Sci. 2014 Nov;19(6):933-9. doi: 10.1007/s00776-014-0633-0. Epub 2014 Oct 13. PubMed PMID: 25308211; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4244558. , 4 G. Huang, Z. Xu, Y. Huang, X. Duan, W. Gong, Y. Zhang, et al. Curcumin protects against collagen-induced arthritis via suppression of BAFF production. J. Clin. Immunol., 33 (3) (2013), pp. 550–557

Most people know turmeric as a powdered spice used to give foods flavor and color—it gives many curries their deep golden color. Derived from a plant in the ginger family, turmeric (Curcuma longa) contains a natural chemical compound called curcumin. Scientists have found curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Watch: Video: The Best-Tasting Anti-Inflammatory Cocktail You've Never Tried

Studies suggest curcumin may provide relief for some people with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory arthritic conditions. 5 Henrotin Y, Priem F, Mobasheri A. Curcumin: a new paradigm and therapeutic opportunity for the treatment of osteoarthritis: curcumin for osteoarthritis management. SpringerPlus. 2013;2:56. doi:10.1186/2193-1801-2-56. , 6 Y. Henrotin, M. Gharbi, Y. Dierckxsens, F. Priem, M. Marty, L. Seidel, A. Albert, E. Heuse, V. Bonnet, C. Castermans. Decrease of a specific biomarker of collagen degradation in osteoarthritis, Coll2-1, by treatment with highly bioavailable curcumin during an exploratory clinical trial. BMC Complement. Altern. Med., 14 (2014), p. 159. , 7 Panahi, A.R. Rahimnia, M. Sharafi, G. Alishiri, A. Saburi, A. Sahebkar. Curcuminoid treatment for knee osteoarthritis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Phytother. Res., 28 (11) (2014), pp. 1625–1631. , 8 Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press; 2011. Chapter 13. Available from:

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Curcumin Supplements

Analysts estimate curcumin accounts for only about 3 to 5% of turmeric. 9 Tayyem RF, Heath DD, Al-Delaimy WK, Rock CL. Curcumin content of turmeric and curry powders. Nutr Cancer. 2006;55(2):126-31. PubMed PMID: 17044766. , 10 Kwon HL, Chung MS. Pilot-scale subcritical solvent extraction of curcuminoids from Curcuma long L. Food Chem. 2015 Oct 15;185:58-64. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2015.03.114. Epub 2015 Apr 2. PubMed PMID: 25952841. Arthritis pain relief may require ingesting more curcumin than a person eats in a typical diet, so advocates often recommend a dietary supplement.

See Dietary Supplements for Treating Arthritis

Curcumin supplements typically contain curcumin (diferuloylmethane) as well as other chemicals naturally found in turmeric, including demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin. Scientists believe that each of these compounds, collectively called curcuminoids, has anti-inflammatory effects. 11 Yang W, Fu J, Yu M, Wang D, Rong Y, Yao P, Nüssler AK, Yan H, Liu L. Effects of three kinds of curcuminoids on anti-oxidative system and membrane deformation of human peripheral blood erythrocytes in high glucose levels. Cell Physiol Biochem. 2015;35(2):789-802. doi: 10.1159/000369738. Epub 2015 Jan 30. PubMed PMID: 25634758.

Advocates suggest a daily curcumin supplement of 200 to 1000mg that contains 95% curcuminoids.

Pepper, or one of pepper’s primary chemical components, piperine, is included in some curcumin supplements. Many experts believe pepper aids the absorption of curcumin. 12 Neyrinck AM, Alligier M, Memvanga PB, Névraumont E, Larondelle Y, Préat V, Cani PD, Delzenne NM. Curcuma longa extract associated with white pepper lessens high fat diet-induced inflammation in subcutaneous adipose tissue. PLoS One. 2013 Nov 19;8(11):e81252. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0081252. eCollection 2013. PubMed PMID: 24260564; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3834320. , 13 Shoba G, Joy D, Joseph T, Majeed M, Rajendran R, Srinivas PS. Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta Med. 1998 May;64(4):353-6. PubMed PMID: 9619120. , 14 Suresh D, Srinivasan K. Tissue distribution & elimination of capsaicin, piperine & curcumin following oral intake in rats. Indian J Med Res. 2010 May;131:682-91. PubMed PMID: 20516541.


In This Article:

Antioxidant and Anti-inflammation Properties

How does curcumin work? Evidence suggests curcumin acts in many different ways to reduce arthritis symptoms.

See Turmeric, Vitamin D, and Coenzyme Q10 for Fibromyalgia

Curcumin as an antioxidant
Researchers suspect that some or all painful arthritis inflammation may be caused by free radicals in the body. Free radicals—unstable molecules or atoms missing an electron—occur naturally in the body, but too many cause oxidative stress, which is linked to inflammation. Antioxidant foods, such as turmeric, leafy greens, and seafood high in omega 3 fatty acids, neutralize free radicals.

See What Are Anti-Inflammatory Foods?

Many researchers believe that turmeric and its essential components, curcuminoids, have antioxidant properties and can be part of a diet that reduces the risk of disease and its effects.

See Dietary Supplements for Fibromyalgia

Curcumin as an a TNF-inhibitor
Evidence suggests curcumin may suppress the body’s response to tumor necrosis factor (TNF), 15 Aggarwal BB, Gupta SC, Sung B. Curcumin: an orally bioavailable blocker of TNF and other pro-inflammatory biomarkers. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2013;169(8):1672-1692. doi:10.1111/bph.12131. a chemical produced by the immune system that causes inflammation related to rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and other arthritic conditions. 16 González-Rivera, TC. Anti-TNF Medications. MD American College of Rheumatology. Last updated June 2012. Accessed July 14, 2015. Curcumin’s role in inhibiting TNF not yet well understood and research is underway.

Curcumin as a COX inhibitor
Typical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, work by blocking both COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes. COX-1 enzymes influence the clotting of blood and the health of the stomach, and COX-2 enzymes influence inflammation that can lead to pain.

Researchers have found that curcumin has the chemical properties of a COX inhibitor 17 Goel A, Boland CR, Chauhan DP. Specific inhibition of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) expression by dietary curcumin in HT-29 human colon cancer cells. Cancer Lett. 2001 Oct 30;172(2):111-8. PubMed PMID: 11566484. , 18 Aggarwal BB, Harikumar KB. Potential Therapeutic Effects of Curcumin, the Anti-inflammatory Agent, Against Neurodegenerative, Cardiovascular, Pulmonary, Metabolic, Autoimmune and Neoplastic Diseases. The international journal of biochemistry & cell biology. 2009;41(1):40-59. doi:10.1016/j.biocel.2008.06.010. , 19 Rao CV. Regulation of COX and LOX by curcumin. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:213-26. Review. PubMed PMID: 17569213. , 20 Zhang Y, Shi S, Chen X, Peng M. Functionalized magnetic nanoparticles coupled with mass spectrometry for screening and identification of cyclooxygenase-1 inhibitors from natural products. J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci. 2014 Jun 1;960:126-32. doi: 10.1016/j.jchromb.2014.04.032. Epub 2014 Apr 26. PubMed PMID: 24793085. and can provide modest pain relief. However, experts have not yet found a way to harness curcumin’s COX-inhibiting properties to reliably relieve moderate or significant arthritis pain.

See Pain Medications for Arthritis Pain Relief


Dr. Vijay Vad is a sports medicine specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, where he specializes in back pain, knee arthritis, frozen shoulder, and general sports medicine. He previously served as a physician for the professional men’s tennis circuit and on the Westchester Classic of the PGA Tour.