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Should You Take Turmeric to Ease Pain?

A reader reports great results using turmeric to ease pain. Before you start swallowing pills, though, you should be aware of possible side effects.
Top view turmeric capsules in plastic cup isolated on white background

Persistent pain can really wear you down. Consequently, when people discover something that works, they like to share the good news. We recently heard from a reader who got relief from months of terrible discomfort by taking turmeric to ease pain.

Can You Use Turmeric to Ease Pain?

Q. I started taking turmeric pills after reading that this spice might be helpful against pain. Because I work sitting in front of a computer all day, I had terrible pains in my hip, leg and back.

A few weeks after taking one pill a day my pain was greatly relieved. I’ve been taking three pills a week and have had no recurring back problems for three years.

Pros & Cons of Turmeric & Curcumin:

A. Many readers report that turmeric or its active ingredient curcumin can ease pain from a variety of causes. Scientists have found evidence to support this observation (Phytomedicine, Sep. 15, 2018). These reviewers cited “compelling evidence” that curcumin can be helpful. 

There may be risks, though, as this reader relates:

“The turmeric/ginger tea I have been drinking has been very helpful in easing my headaches and fibromyalgia pain. But a rash is driving me crazy! It started on the left side of my neck and has moved down to my chest. I have never had anything like this before.

“When I searched the web, bingo! I learned that turmeric can cause skin rashes. What else can I use as a natural anti-inflammatory without risking a terrible skin rash?”

While we are enthusiastic about turmeric to ease pain, caution is appropriate. Some people are allergic to turmeric. Others experience liver enzyme elevations when they take either turmeric or curcumin medicinally. In addition, people taking anticoagulants should also avoid this yellow spice. Unfortunately, a combination of turmeric with warfarin could lead to elevated INR values or possibly even dangerous bleeding.

Learn More:

To learn more about the benefits and risks of turmeric and other natural anti-inflammatory herbs, we suggest our book, Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life.

Additionally, other natural anti-inflammatory medicines come from the Ayurvedic tradition: ashwagandha and boswellia. Herbs and spices that can help ease joint pain include cayenne, ginger, juniper and rosemary. You’ll find more information about them as well in Spice Up Your Health.

You may also wish to listen to our interview with turmeric researcher Dr. Ajay Goel. You’ll find it in Show 1079: What Is the Science Behind Fabulous Foods for Health?

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life
$15.95

Learn about the latest research on the surprising health benefits of herbs and spices. Find out how to make home remedies with spices that can help with common health problems.

Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life
Citations
  • Sun J et al, "Role of curcumin in the management of pathological pain." Phytomedicine, Sep. 15, 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.phymed.2018.04.045
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I drink ginger and turmeric tea for arthritic pain. Now I understand my neck rash! I thought my childhood eczema was reappearing. For the past few year the skin on my eyelids, and this year my neck, has been paper dry and itchy especially in the winter. I stopped drinking the tea as soon as I read this, and my skin is improving already. Thank you, thank you for this important forum!!!

I was taking tumeric/cucurmin upon the advice of my doctor. She suggested it might help to lower my cholesterol. I experienced very soft to loose bowel movements the whole time I took it. Just a warning that if this occurs stop taking it and see if you return to normal.

I had tried almost everything you mention for my backache, but I have had no result, not even slight relief. I used ashwagandha and boswellia, the largest dose Turmeric without any benefit. I am still reading your website, but I am not hopeful for any benefit

I think Tumeric/curcumin helped me, but I had to stop taking it because I bleed easily, and it is a blood-thinner. I also do not take baby aspirin or Co-Q 10 for the same reason.

Early last fall I came down with a serious case of sciatica and entered physical therapy to attempt to get back to some sort of pain-free normal. After months of pretty intense PT, I had only gained about 40% improvement. Then I contacted a Nurse Practitioner who worked with an orthopedic doctor, and she recommended Turmeric, which was the first I had heard of it. She recommended starting with 2000mg. per day, which sounded excessive to me, so I started with 1000mg. It may have been coincidental, but within hours (!!) of taking my first dose, I realized my nagging pain throughout my body from the waist down had noticeably improved! So I ramped up to the 2000mg daily dose (2-500mg capsules at breakfast and at dinner), and it has really improved my pain levels.

Some days are good and some not so good, especially after a tough PT session where the therapist has bent and twisted and pressured all the trigger points around my hips and buttocks. I will run out of PT visits in a couple of weeks and will then be on my own for working out at home, which I am not good at. But in any case, I would recommend trying Turmeric for skeletal and muscular pains — but if it doesn’t work for you within a week or two, then stop using it.

Turmeric is also high in oxalates, which for people like me who make calcium oxalate kidney stones, it is very bad. Occasional use is ok, but everyday use as a supplement for pain relief is not.

I started turmeric (900 mg 2x/d) last summer when I developed foot pain. The pain really hobbled me. Days / in fact 3 weeks of ice and ibuprofen helped minimally. I had a milder version 6 mos earlier. I saw an oath, and MRI suggested arthritis or perhaps gout. A friend suggested turmeric. Within 3 days I felt better. In a week, and since, I’ve been fine. I’m 71 and still play b-ball and referee school ball. Other overuse aches like knee and back are also gone. I also take daily 2 fish oil capsules and 2 condroitin/ galac / MSM which may also help. So long as all continues well, I’m committed.

Another possible side effect is heart palpitations. Scary, and very distracting, even if not dangerous.

Thank you for saying that turmeric can cause elevated liver enzymes. I had liver enzymes 4x normal and was sent to see a liver specialist. In a little over two weeks my labs were normal. The liver dr. told me they see liver damage so bad from patients taking supplements that they tell them never to take any supplements. After a little more than 2 weeks off all supplements and herb teas my liver labs were normal. The liver dr. said some patients who take supplements have such bad liver damage they have to have a liver transplant.

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