How to Use Turmeric for Pain Relief

Using turmeric for pain and other conditions has a long history in traditional medicine. Like many natural medicines, it has many uses; two of the best known are as an anti-inflammatory and an analgesic painkiller.

Turmeric and ginger are related spices in the Zingiberaceae family.

Turmeric’s most active component is the phytochemical curcumin, a polyphenol.

Turmeric and its component curcumin gives a yellow color and a characteristic flavor to curry. It’s used in cooking in India in large quantities; it is thought that may account for the low rates of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease in India.

Clinical Trials

The Zingiberaceae spices and extracts have been the subject of a significant number of human clinical trials, as well as laboratory and animal studies, for a variety of conditions.



Turmeric for pain

In 2015, in Nutrition Journal1, researchers analyzed clinical trials that met the same standard as used for drug testing.

They concluded that Zingiberaceae extracts:

  • Have a “moderate to large effect” on chronic pain
  • Show “comparable effectiveness to standard NSAID treatments” in osteoarthritis​

Both turmeric and ginger are considered safer than NSAIDs, with few or no “serious adverse events.”

Unlike NSAIDs, they also have the potential to modulate the immune system for long-term benefits against inflammatory and autoimmune processes.


The Nutrition Journal article mentioned above2 reported that “multiple randomized trials” for arthritis “mostly found moderate reductions in subjective pain,” with turmeric and curcumin outperforming ginger.

One of the studies analyzed was a 2014 study, published in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging3, that concluded that curcumin was as effective as ibuprofen for “pain reduction and functional improvement” in knee osteoarthritis.

I noticed that this study was of only a four-week course of each substance. I would expect that a longer use of curcumin would show an even better result. I don’t think that anyone would believe that ibuprofen gets more effective over time; curcumin may.



Other conditions

Other human clinical trials have shown good results for recovery from surgery, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers, eye conditions, and cancer.

A phase II clinical trial, published in The Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health in 20014, caught my attention: Patients with peptic ulcers took 600 mg. of turmeric five times a day; ulcers disappeared for 76% of the patients in twelve weeks.

Turmeric’s anti-cancer properties are also a major focus of research.

Other benefits

Turmeric appears to be a rather astonishing medicinal food with many more uses for health than I have discussed here.

“Turmeric is one of five medicinal plants used efficiently as a single drug,” wrote the Thai authors of the ulcer study5, explaining that the development of the knowledge of turmeric is part of the national policy of Thailand.



Turmeric Action Steps

Turmeric, ginger, and the extract of turmeric called curcumin, are widely available both as spices for cooking and as nutritional supplements.

Sources agree that all three have a better “safety profile” than NSAIDs.


Allergic reactions are always possible.

Interactions with medication are possible. Consult with your doctor and pharmacist about interactions with blood thinners, NSAIDs, and other medications.

Turmeric and curcumin may be anticoagulants, or blood thinners, especially when combined with NSAIDs.

In chemotherapy, a 2009 Alternative Medicine Review article6 notes that curcumin may “enhance the effects of some chemotherapy drugs” yet “inhibits the activity of certain chemotherapy drugs.”


Turmeric is classified by the FDA as a GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) food additive.

The 2009 article in Alternative Medicine Review7 concludes, “In every published clinical trial, curcumin appears to be extremely safe, even at doses up to 8 g. [8000 mg.] daily.”

See the Cautions above.

Curcumin with piperine?

The body rapidly clears curcumin.

In one approach, substances are added to curcumin to keep it in the body longer. This is usually described as “increasing bioavailability.”

In a common formulation of curcumin supplements, piperine, a substance derived from black pepper, is added. It interferes with the breakdown of curcumin and increases the levels of curcumin in the blood.

But is it necessary or even desirable to raise blood levels of curcumin? The 2015 Nutrition Journal article8 speculates, “It is likely that its benefits are mediated via secondary metabolites,” that is, the benefits are from the breakdown products themselves.

In the absence of a good reason, I personally would stick to curcumin without piperine.

I am eager to learn about any clinical experience that someone may have about using the Increased “bioavailable” curcumin.

Fat with turmeric and curcumin

Curcumin is a fat-soluble substance.

In traditional curried food, turmeric is cooked and eaten with fat.

It seems likely that eating fat along with turmeric or curcumin would enhance its benefits.

There are supplement formulations that contain curcumin with fats or lipids. I do not know if these are more effective for certain conditions than simply taking turmeric with fatty meals or regular meals; or if some conditions require either the presence or the lack of fat with turmeric or curcumin.


Recommendations on supplement labels are frequently about 1000-1500 mg. per day.

Clinical trials for knee osteoarthritis reported in Clinical Interventions in Aging in 20149 used:

  • 500 mg. three times a day = 1500 mg. per day

Another trial by the same researchers used:

  • 2000 mg. per day = possibly 500 mg. four times a day

The higher doses mentioned previously (8000 mg. per day) were used in cancer trials.


Examples of reliable supplement brands:

Organic India

Turmeric Formula contains:​

  • Organic turmeric rhizome 370 mg.​
  • Turmeric extract 80 mg.
  • Organic ginger rhizome 50 mg.

(“Take one twice a day”)


Turmeric Root Extract

Nature’s Way

Turmeric Standardized

New Chapter

Turmeric Force

1 capsule daily recommended; 1 capsule = 3960 mg. turmeric

This is a high-dose encapsulated liquid from a company with a good reputation.


A delicious way to take turmeric and ginger is to cook with them.

Recipe ideas

The World’s Healthiest Foods: Turmeric


A widely available brand of organic spices (available in many groceries):

Simply Organic


Available at the grocery; grate and use in food.

Turmeric root is typically available at high-end groceries.


Turmeric is frequently found in herbal tea blends.





Can Turmeric Relieve Pain? One Doctor’s Opinion
Dr. Scott Haig
Time, July 13, 2009

Turmeric: the Spice that Actually Doubles as a Powerful Anti-Inflammatory
April 26, 2011

The Doctor’s Remedy: Turmeric for Joint Pain
Anahad O’Connor
The New York Times, October 19, 2011

Micronutrient Information Center
Linus Pauling Institute

Medical Journal Articles

Every link leads to free full text, except as noted. In some cases, to get to the full text, you’ll need to find and click an additional PDF or full text link .

PMID is the ID number in the free PubMed medical literature index. PMCID is the ID number in the free PubMed Central full-text archive.

Turmeric and Curcumin

Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Curcumin, a Major Constituent of Curcuma longa: A Review of Preclinical and Clinical Research (PDF)
Julie S. Jurenka
Alternative Medicine Review 2009 Volume 14, Number 2
PMID: 19594223

Zingiberacae Extracts for Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Shaheen E. Lakhan, Christopher T. Ford, and Deborah Tepper
Nutrition Journal (2015) 14:50
PMID: 25972154
PMCID: PMC4436156


Efficacy and Safety of Curcuma domestica Extracts Compared with Ibuprofen in Patients with Knee Osteoarthritis: A Multicenter Study
Vilai Kuptniratsaikul, Piyapat Dajpratham, Wirat Taechaarpornkul, Montana Buntragulpoontawee, Pranee Lukkanapichonchut, Chirawan Chootip, Jittima Saengsuwan, Kesthamrong Tantayakom, Supphalak Laongpech
Clinical Interventions in Aging 2014; 9: 451-458
PMID: 24672232
PMCID: 3964021

Efficacy and Safety of Curcuma domestica Extracts in Patients with Knee Osteoarthritis
V. Kuptniratsaikul, S. Thanakhumtorn, P. Chinswangwatanaul, L. Wattanamongkonsil, V. Thamlikitkul
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2009 Aug; 15(8):891-7
PMID: 19678780
(Abstract only is free)


Phase II Clinical Trial on Effect of the Long Turmeric (Cucuma longa Linn) on Healing of Peptic Ulcer (PDF)
Chaweewan Prucsunand, Bunjob Indrasukhsri, Manit Leethochawalit, and Korpong Hungspreugs
The Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health 2001 Mar; 32(1):208-15
PMID: 11485087