Curcumin and osteoarthritis

Marion Hauser Curcumin and osteoarthritisMarion Hauser, MS, RD

In this article we will briefly discuss some of the research that suggests that the curcumin family (curcuminoids), compounds of the spice turmeric, display what scientists have called “amazing” antioxidant properties. We will translate this research into a closer look at turmeric’s ability to alleviate and possibly stop osteoarthritis progression.

Do you have questions about the role of foods in inflammation? You can get help and information from our Caring Medical staff.

Turmeric is a tradition Indian spice derived from the rhizomes (the trademark horizontal underground stem from which roots grow) of the tropical plant Curcuma longa Linn, a member of the ginger family. Its bright yellow-orange color comes mainly from the curcumin family.

While turmeric, in addition to its use as a spice in foods, has been used in India for medicinal purposes for centuries, modern researchers have found that curcumin may have anti-inflammatory and anticancer activities. This discovery has lead to an incredible amount of research surrounding the turmeric spice and its components.

Writing in the Journal of interferon and cytokine research, (a journal on the science of inflammation), medical university researchers in China says that Curcumin has shown protective potential on osteoarthritis, but research does not suggest how protective it is in regards to its acting as an anti-inflammatory.

So the Chinese team set out to answer that question.

In their study, the researchers  aimed to determine whether curcumin could alleviate osteoarthritis symptoms and the underlying mechanisms that causes it. To answer the question, they looked at mice with  destabilized medial meniscus who were administered curcumin.

  • In the damaged mice meniscus and cartilage, curcumin was shown to increase levels of inflammatory cytokines (messengers that call for more inflammation. Note that the basic premise of Prolotherapy treatment is to spark a new healing cycle, this is what curcumin is influencing in the damaged joint). In fact curcumin affected various other messenger and inflammatory cells to induce inflammation.
  • Administration of curcumin significantly reduced osteoarthritis disease progression by interfering with the degenerative breakdown process of cartilage.
  • Curcumin also helped suppressed inflammation. In a highlight of this research, this study provides the first evidence that curcumin exerts protection on osteoarthritis by inhibition to the release of inflammasome NLRP3, leading to the downregulation of inflammatory cytokines.1
    • Simply NLRP3 in a gene that controls Macrophages. Macrophages are cells that eat biomaterial debris from damaged cells to give room for healing cells to do their work. Macrophages are part of the inflammatory process, curcumin provided the chemicals to help the Macrophages know when to shut down, i.e, stop the inflammation.

Osteoarthritis in Postmenopausal Women

In a similar study from South Korea’s College of Natural Sciences, Obesity/Diabetes Center, Hoseo University, doctors explored the connection of inflammation and menopausal symptoms and how curcumin and tetrahydrocurcumin would help symptoms in women. Tetrahydrocurcumin is a compound that helps make the cumcumin metabolic process go. The researchers speculated that tetrahydrocurcumin may have its own benefits.

In studying estrogen-deficient rats with symptoms created to mimic knee osteoarthritis, the researchers were able to compare the effects of curcumin and tetrahydrocurcumin.

Here are the very interesting findings:

  • Tetrahydrocurcumin helped prevent glucose intolerance, which might be involved in worsening osteoarthritis.
  • Tetrahydrocurcumin and  curcumin protected against osteoarthritis symptoms and pain.
  • Tetrahydrocurcumin and  curcumin prevented the deterioration of articular cartilage.
  • They also maintained lean body mass and lowered fat mass.
  • As in the research above, Tetrahydrocurcumin and  curcumin improved osteoarthritis symptoms by influencing pro and anti-inflammatory factors in articular cartilage.

Researchers make supplementation recommendations

In the Journal of dietary supplements, researchers write about their randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study investigated the efficacy of curcuminoids (the curcumin family) in reducing systemic oxidative burden in patients suffering from knee osteoarthritisOxidative stress is implicated in the development and progression of osteoarthritis.

  • Nineteen patients with mild-to-moderate primary knee osteoarthritis were given curcuminoid capsules (1500 mg/day in 3 divided doses) and twenty-one matched placebo capsules for a period of 6 weeks.
  • Curcuminoids were co-administered with piperine (a bioactive compound of black pepper) (15 mg/day) in order to improve the bioavailability (absorption).
  • In the curcumin group there was a significant elevation in serum superoxide dismutase activities (superoxide dismutase is a primary antioxidant).
  • An elevation in GSH (Glutathione) concentrations was found. Glutathione has been called the body’s “master antioxidant.”
  • And a significant reduction in MDA concentrations (MDA malondialdehyde is a free radical linked to cholesterol metabolism. Steroid interaction is part of  cholesterol metabolism.

The researchers concluded that curcuminoid capsules (1500 mg/day in 3 divided doses) co-administered with piperine (15 mg/day) reduced systemic oxidative stress in patients with osteoarthritis. These antioxidant effects may account for the reported therapeutic effects of curcuminoids in relieving osteoarthritis symptoms.3

Will change in diet and supplementation of Turmeric be beneficial for your osteoarthritic joint pain? That you need to find out for your health care provider.

Do you have questions about the role of foods in inflammation? You can get help and information from our Caring Medical staff

1 Sun Y, Liu W, Zhang H, Li H, Liu J, Zhang F, Jiang T, Jiang S. Curcumin Prevents Osteoarthritis by Inhibiting the Activation of Inflammasome NLRP3. Journal of Interferon & Cytokine Research. 2017 Oct 1;37(10):449-55.

Park S, Lee LR, Seo JH, Kang S. Curcumin and tetrahydrocurcumin both prevent osteoarthritis symptoms and decrease the expressions of pro-inflammatory cytokines in estrogen-deficient rats. Genes & nutrition. 2016 Mar 17;11(1):2.

3 Panahi Y, Alishiri GH, Parvin S, Sahebkar A. Mitigation of systemic oxidative stress by curcuminoids in osteoarthritis: results of a randomized controlled trial. Journal of dietary supplements. 2016 Mar 3;13(2):209-20.


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