More than 2 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a condition in which the body's immune system attacks the joints, causing pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function. The herb turmeric has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine (a whole medical system that originated in India) as a treatment for inflammatory disorders, including RA.
Janet Funk, M.D., and colleagues at the NCCAM-funded Center for Phytomedicine Research at the University of Arizona created symptoms in rats that mimic those of RA in humans. In a series of experiments, they treated the rats with different preparations and dosages of turmeric extracts. Some received treatment before developing the RA-like symptoms, others afterward.
The results (mainly measured in terms of joint swelling) suggested to the authors that an extract processed to contain only curcuminoids (a family of chemicals that is the major component of turmeric; curcumin is one curcuminoid) may be more effective for preventing RA symptoms than a more complex extract containing curcuminoids plus other turmeric compounds (this is similar to commercially available supplements). They also noted that the curcuminoids-only formulas appeared safer and more effective at lower doses. Also, the researchers found that the compounds had greater effectiveness when the rats were treated before instead of after the onset of inflammation.
The authors identified a need for well-designed preclinical and clinical studies to look further into turmeric for anti-inflammatory use.
Funk JL, Oyarzo JN, Frye JB, et al.. Turmeric extracts containing curcuminoids prevent experimental rheumatoid arthritis.. Journal of Natural Products, March 2006..2006