We’ve all grappled with pain in all manner and variations – whether it’s after taking a tumble or because of a punishing exercise routine or a serious injury. While many of us have only faced fleeting or minor pain, conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, or nerve damage can result in chronic pain. Left untreated, pain can literally take over your life, robbing you of sleep and the ability to work or enjoy everyday life.1 If this sounds familiar, there might be a potent painkiller sitting right on your kitchen shelf. Turmeric, the yellow spice that gives curry its brilliant color, is valued in ancient medical systems like ayurveda for its many beneficial properties. And this spice may be able to help you manage pain.
Works By Impacting Mediators And Messengers Of Pain
The analgesic effect of turmeric is mainly attributed to a beneficial compound known as curcumin. Curcumin is thought to ease pain by:
Curcumin, a powerful bioactive component in turmeric, is mainly responsible for turmeric’s ability to modulate pain.
- Inhibiting the production of prostaglandin E(2), which is a lipid mediator that plays a part in inflammatory pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also work by decreasing the generation of prostanoids, mostly prostaglandin E(2).2
- Depleting a neurotransmitter known as substance P, which transmits pain messages from sensory nerve fibers to your brain.3
Tackles Pain Linked To A Variety Of Conditions
Turmeric’s analgesic properties extend to a variety of conditions. Studies have found that turmeric works as a painkiller for:
Osteoarthritis is a condition where the slippery tissue which covers the ends of your bones breaks down, resulting in swelling, pain, and mobility problems in your joints. It is the most common kind of arthritis and a leading cause of joint pain.4 Turmeric extracts have been found to be as effective as the commonly used NSAID ibuprofen in tackling pain, stiffness, and function. Moreover, in the study, people who took the turmeric extract reported significantly lower incidence of abdominal discomfort or pain as a side effect.5
An autoimmune and inflammatory condition, rheumatoid arthritis is another type of arthritis which can lead to pain, stiffness, loss of function, and swelling in your joints. Curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties come in handy here too. One study compared the effectiveness of curcumin with that of the drug diclofenac sodium in treating people with this condition. Interestingly, it was found that people who took curcumin fared significantly better not just where pain and swelling of joints were concerned but also in disease activity scores.6
Thanks to curcumin again, turmeric can also help ease pain associated with gout, a kind of arthritis where you get painful swollen joints due to the formation of crystals around or in your joints.7
Turmeric has the potential to tackle postsurgical pain and fatigue as well. In one study, people who had undergone laparoscopic cholecystectomy were given curcumin alongside conventional treatment for pain management. Within a week the group reported significantly lower scores for pain as well as for fatigue. Their use of medication for pain was also significantly lower than in the control group.8
Muscle Pain Due To Exercise
Fight any workout-related pain and inflammation by incorporating turmeric milk or tea into your daily life. You could spice up your cooking with some turmeric powder or root as well.
We’ve all experienced it – stiffness and pain which rushes in after we engage in exercise that we’re unaccustomed to. If you’re starting out on an exercise routine or taking it up a notch, curcumin can be a powerful ally. One study found that taking a daily curcumin supplement before and during the course of an exercise routine can be beneficial. Those who followed this regimen experienced less pain, muscle damage, and inflammation.9
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition where you experience fatigue as well as pain throughout your body. While exact causes remain unknown, it is linked to irregularities in the levels of some brain chemicals and a dysfunction of the central nervous system, hampering the way pain messages are processed.10 Research has found that taking a curcumin supplement can bring about an improvement in pain in those suffering from this disease within 24 to 48 hours.11
May Work Better Than Some Pain Medications – With Fewer Side Effects
As we’ve already seen, a turmeric extract was as effective as ibuprofen in easing pain due to osteoarthritis while it was better than diclofenac sodium for those with rheumatoid arthritis. Both ibuprofen and diclofenac sodium are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs are commonly used to manage pain and many people take them regularly for long periods to deal with chronic pain. However, these medicines do come with some side effects, including:
- A higher risk for heart problems, heart attacks, and strokes
- Bleeding in your gastrointestinal tract, stomach ulcers, and upset stomach
- Kidney damage
Studies suggest that turmeric extracts may have the potential to be a safer analgesic option with fewer and less adverse side effects, especially if you need to use painkillers for long periods.12 Longer and more extensive studies will help confirm this.13
Can Be Consumed Or Applied As A Poultice
Now that we’ve seen how turmeric can help manage pain, let’s take a look at ways to put the spice to good use.
- Typically, 1.5–3 gm of turmeric powder can be taken daily, divided into 2 or 3 doses, to fight pain and inflammation from within. You could prepare a cup of turmeric milk by boiling turmeric powder in milk.14 You can also have turmeric tea, made by steeping turmeric powder or the crushed root in hot water.
- A poultice of turmeric can also be applied externally to treat sprains and sore joints.15
- While having turmeric root or powder is the most organic and natural way to use the spice, turmeric or curcumin supplements are also available. Supplements with 400–600 mg of curcumin are usually taken thrice a day in studies to tackle pain.16 However, it’s best that you consult an expert alternative practitioner before you take therapeutic doses of extracts. Dosage will be based on your condition and its severity. Since it is difficult for your body to absorb natural curcumin, some supplements may also contain a compound known as piperine (which comes from pepper) to help your body use curcumin. Or they may use a phytosomal form of curcuminoids to boost bioavailability.17 But the bottom line is that you must speak to your doctor before taking curcumin supplements, especially if you are on any other medication.
While turmeric is widely used as a spice and is generally considered to be safe in dietary doses, it may not be advisable for people who have gallstones or a condition where the passage of bile is obstructed. Taking large amounts may also not be recommended during pregnancy as it might lead to uterine contractions.18
|↑1||Chronic Pain. American Academy of Family Physicians.|
|↑2||Kawabata, Atsufumi. “Prostaglandin E2 and pain—an update.” Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 34, no. 8 (2011): 1170-1173.|
|↑3, ↑13, ↑17||Sahebkar, Amirhossein, and Yves Henrotin. “Analgesic efficacy and safety of curcuminoids in clinical practice: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Pain medicine 17, no. 6 (2015): 1192-1202.|
|↑4||Osteoarthritis. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑5||Kuptniratsaikul, Vilai, Piyapat Dajpratham, Wirat Taechaarpornkul, Montana Buntragulpoontawee, Pranee Lukkanapichonchut, Chirawan Chootip, Jittima Saengsuwan, Kesthamrong Tantayakom, and Supphalak Laongpech. “Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a multicenter study.” Clinical interventions in aging 9 (2014): 451.|
|↑6||Chandran, Binu, and Ajay Goel. “A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis.” Phytotherapy research 26, no. 11 (2012): 1719-1725.|
|↑7, ↑11||Appelboom, Thierry, and Christian Mélot MsciBiost. “Flexofytol, a Purified Curcumin Extract, in Fibromyalgia and Gout: A Retrospective Study.” Open Journal of Rheumatology and Autoimmune Diseases 3, no. 02 (2013): 104.|
|↑8||Agarwal, Krishna Adit, C. D. Tripathi, Brij B. Agarwal, and Satish Saluja. “Efficacy of turmeric (curcumin) in pain and postoperative fatigue after laparoscopic cholecystectomy: a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study.” Surgical endoscopy 25, no. 12 (2011): 3805-3810.|
|↑9||Drobnic, Franchek, Joan Riera, Giovanni Appendino, Stefano Togni, Federico Franceschi, Xavier Valle, Antoni Pons, and Josep Tur. “Reduction of delayed onset muscle soreness by a novel curcumin delivery system (Meriva®): a randomised, placebo-controlled trial.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 11, no. 1 (2014): 31.|
|↑12||Pain relief: Taking NSAIDs safely.
|↑14||Foster, Steve. “Better Nutrition’s 1999 Herb Guide”. Better Nutrition, Apr 1999.|
|↑15||Khalsa, Karta Purkh Singh, and Michael Tierra. The way of ayurvedic herbs: The most complete guide to natural healing and health with traditional ayurvedic herbalism. Lotus press, 2008.|
|↑16||Turmeric. University of Michigan.|
|↑18||Turmeric. University of Michigan.|