Image: Kari Perrin

Turmeric, a yellow root deriving from the ginger family, is not just a flavorful addition to many tasty dishes. The spice possesses an active ingredient that is shown to have a positive effect on inflammation and joint pain. For those with arthritis and other inflammatory joint diseases, turmeric could be a powerful addition to their treatment. Whether you decide to add it to a smoothie, use it to make a curry or take in a capsule, the root may be a helpful natural remedy.

According to Dr. Myrdalis Díaz-Ramírez of Sarasota Pain Relief Centers, many people take 1,000-milligram capsules of the root's powder.

"There is a National Institutes of Health section that studies alternative medicine and they have found signs for further study of the plant," says Díaz-Ramírez. "Research has shown preliminary improvement in some patients."

What makes turmeric so effective? Díaz-Ramírez says the active ingredient within the root is curcumin, a powerful compound and antioxidant that contains anti-inflammatory properties. The curcumin content of turmeric is only about 3 percent by weight, so supplements containing higher curcumin content can be even more beneficial.

The measurement of the root's effectiveness is determined through a visual analog scale, rating pain from zero to 10. Some studies show a consistent decrease in pain. Another scale used to measure joint pain is WOMAC, the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index. This scale determines the level of hip and knee osteoarthritis in patients, many of whom have benefited from turmeric.

"The National Institutes of Health doesn't have the exact science or measures needed for it to be effective. It is different for every patient," say Díaz-Ramírez. "But while there is no official recommendation from the U.S. government, there are supplements people can try."

Supplements can be found at any local grocery or health food store, and contain specifically curcumin or turmeric powder. When Díaz-Ramírez works with patients who suffer from joint pain and arthritis, she advises an anti-inflammatory diet that may include turmeric. Some patients prefer cooking with it. Díaz-Ramírez herself takes it as a supplement. She advises taking it daily. Other necessary vitamins for joint health include vitamin D, calcium and magnesium. Glucosamine and chondroiton may also be effective.

Can turmeric be taken with other traditional medications? "Yes," says Díaz-Ramírez. "There are no interactions it causes, and it can work effectively in conjunction with other traditional healing routes."

Who benefits from turmeric? Young and old patients with joint problems can try turmeric to see if it helps. While some try using it as a preventive measure, Díaz-Ramírez says there are no conclusive studies indicating it can prevent arthritis or joint swelling.

"I think the root is wonderful in terms of flavor, as a spice in meals," says Díaz-Ramírez. "If you choose to cook with it, you can still reap the benefits."

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