The yellow pigment curcumin in the spice turmeric may work as good or better than anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.
Osteoarthritisis the most frequent cause of physical disability among older adults in the world, affecting more than 20 million Americans, with 20% of us affected in the coming decades, and becoming more and more widespread among younger people.
Osteoarthritis is characterized by loss of cartilage in the joint. We used to think it was just mechanical wear and tear, but it’s now generally accepted as an active joint disease with a prominent inflammatory component as evidenced by, for example, significantly higher production of inflammatory prostaglandins from tissue samples obtained from the knees of people suffering from the disease.
If the loss of cartilage is caused by inflammation, might an anti-inflammatory diet help like it does with rheumatoid arthritis? Using optimal nutrition and exercise as the “first-line” intervention in the management of chronic osteoarthritis could well constitute the best medical practice.
Where's the best science on what optimal nutrition might look like? The China study is a prime example, showing the serious health consequences of high consumption of pro-inflammatory foods—meat, dairy, fat, and junk—and low consumption of anti-inflammatory plant foods, whole grains, vegetables and fruits, beans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils. The unnatural Western diet contributes to low-grade systemic inflammation, oxidative tissue stress and irritation, placing the immune system in an overactive state, a common denominator of conditions such as arthritis.
There are phytonutrients in plants that appear to help decrease the degradation of the joint cartilage, the inflammatory activity, cell death, and oxidative damage. This is based largely on in vitro studies suggesting protective benefits of soy, pomegranates, citrus, grapes, green tea, and the curry powder spice turmeric. But my patients are people, not petri dishes. What role might the yellow pigment curcumin in turmeric play in the treatment of osteoarthritis?
Well obesity doesn't just put more stress on our joints. Fatty tissue inside our joints, like in the kneecap itself, is a source of pro inflammatory chemicals that have been shown to increase cartilage degradation. Curcumin may not only help prevent the release of inflammatory chemicals, but slow the formation of the fat pad in the first place. But enough with the test tubes. There have been two clinical studies published to date.
The latest took 50 patients suffering from mild-to-moderate knee osteoarthritis and gave them either the best available medical treatment, which included control with anti-inflammatory drugs and pain-killers, or the best available treatment along with some proprietary curcumin supplement. They used a number of different measures, including the karnosfsky scale which goes up to 100, which is normal, no complaints, no evidence of disease, down to zero at which you're dead. The group with the added curcumin did significantly better, and were able to double their walking distance. This is the best medicine had to offer, so Mother Nature made a counter-offer. The curcumin group was able to significantly decrease their drug use, side-effects, swelling, hospitalizations, and other treatments.
But it doesn't have to be some fancy proprietary formula. Here's the other study: The efficacy of turmeric extracts in patients with knee osteoarthritis. About a hundred sufferers were randomized to ibuprofen or concentrated turmeric extracts for six weeks, and the curcumin group did as good or better then the ibuprofen. Even though ibuprofen is over-the-counter, it can cause ulceration, bleeding, and perforation of the stomach and intestines—can eat right through your stomach wall, and in fact that happened to someone in the study. Whereas what are the side-effects of curcumin? Potentially protecting against a long list of diseases.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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What about rheumatoid arthritis? That was my last video, Turmeric Curcumin and Rheumatoid. Next, I’ll cover Boosting the Bioavailability of Curcumin and then end with some caveats (Who Shouldn’t Consume Curcumin or Turmeric).
I think the only other video I have on osteoarthritis is Rose Hips for Osteoarthritis.
If, as described, oxidative stress and inflammation both play a role in joint inflammation, then that may help explain the role of turmeric. See my recent videos Which Spices Fight Inflammation? and Spicing Up DNA Protection.
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