Turmeric, also known as Curcuma longa, is a vibrant orange-yellow spice, that has been employed by traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to promote health.  Many healthful phytonutrients are found in turmeric, but most investigators believe curcumin is primarily responsible for turmeric’s health promoting properties. 

Curcumin is concentrated in the underground stem of Curcuma longa and is the substance responsible for the spice’s vivid color. Curcumin is a type of polyphenol. Polyphenol’s describe a broad and large class of plant nutrients that provide many benefits when consumed through diet or supplementation. Curcumin, together with other curcumin like substances are referred to curcuminoids and make up roughly 5% of turmeric. 

Curcuminoids are poorly absorbed and some estimates suggest only 1% of curcuminoids are absorbed after consumption. Therefore, supplementation with higher doses may provide sufficient blood levels for therapeutic benefit. 

Potential Benefits of Turmeric for Musculoskeletal Health* 5,6,7


1. Curcumin is a potent antioxidant* 8,9,10,11,12

Oxidative damage is a key mechanism that causes pre-mature aging of joint, bone, and muscle tissue.

Curcumin demonstrates multiple antioxidant attributes:

  • Curcumin can neutralize high energy, free radicals that contain oxygen and/or nitrogen, reducing the damage these molecules can cause to DNA, RNA, proteins, and fat.
  • Curcumin may enhance the activity of many natural antioxidant enzymes that your body produces, like superoxide dismutase, that neutralize oxygen containing free radicals.
  • Curcumin  may boost the production of sulfur containing enzymes and substances that your body employs to help detoxify dangerous toxins.

German researchers investigated the antioxidant properties of turmeric extract using a validated method to evaluate antioxidant capacity referred to as a TEAC assay.The researchers found turmeric to have pronounced antioxidant activity, attributing most antioxidant activity to the presence of curcumin.(Betancor-Fernández A Screening pharmaceutical preparations containing extracts of turmeric rhizome, artichoke leaf, devil’s claw root and garlic or salmon oil for antioxidant capacity J Pharm Pharmacol. 2003 Jul;55(7):981-6.)


2. Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory* 13, 14,15,16

Chronic low grade inflammation is a driving force behind chronic joint, muscle, tendon, and bone injury. Research suggests curcumin attacks unhealthy inflammation via multiple pathways: 

  • Curcumin inhibits the activity of nuclear factor kappa beta, a protein that  promotes the activation of certain genes that stimulate and propagate inflammation.
  • Curcumin hampers tumor necrosis factor alpha, a major signaling molecule that helps catalyze the inflammation pathway.
  • Curcumin reduces the production of local signaling molecules and enzymes that magnify the inflammatory process and aggravate pain, stiffness, and weakness.

Korean researchers examined the anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric on a human model of inflammation using skin cells. The authors found that turmeric extract was associated with a significant reduction in markers of inflammation, including IL-6, TNF-α. NF-kβ, and COX-2.(Cho JW et al. Curcumin attenuates the expression of IL-1beta, IL-6, and TNF-alpha as well as cyclin E in TNF-alpha-treated HaCaT cells; NF-kappaB and MAPKs as potential upstream targets. Int J Mol Med. 2007 Mar;19(3):469-74)

3. Curcumin exhibits anti-fat properties* 17,18,19

Obesity is a significant risk factor for chronic joint disease. Research implies curcumin suppresses the maturing of fat cells and some research even suggest curcumin triggers fat cell death. Also, curcumin has been shown to reduce body weight and cut of the blood supply to fat cells; making fat cell survival much harder.

Tufts investigators examined the effects of curcumin on a mouse model of obesity. The authors found that curcumin administration was associated with both reduced body weight gain and mouse fat.The researchers suggested curcumin constricts blood supply to fat cells making fat cell  survival much harder.(Ejaz, A.; Wu, D.; Kwan, P.; Meydani, M. Curcumin inhibits adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 adipocytes and angiogenesis and obesity in C57/BL mice. J. Nutr. 2009, 139, 919–925.)

Selected Evidence*

1. Curcumin promotes joint health*

Iranian researchers examined the effects of turmeric extract rich in curcumin on symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. The investigators found that the extract significantly improved pain and function scores. The authors concluded curcuminoids represent an effective and safe alternative treatment for osteoarthritis.(Panahi Yet al. Curcuminoid treatment for knee osteoarthritis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Phytother Res. 2014 Nov;28(11):1625-31.)

2. Curcumin boosts bone health*

Chinese researchers examined the effects of turmeric extract rich in curcumin on human bone producing cells called osteoblasts. The investigators found that the extract decreased osteoblast programmed cell death due to oxidative stress.The authors concluded curcumin may promote bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.(Dai P et al. Attenuation of Oxidative Stress-Induced Osteoblast Apoptosis by Curcumin is Associated with Preservation of Mitochondrial Functions and Increased Akt-GSK3β Signaling. Cell Physiol Biochem. 2017;41(2):661-677.)

3. Curcumin enhances muscle health*

Boston investigators examined the effects of curcumin on a rat model of muscle loss. The authors found that curcumin administration was associated with a decrease in muscle mass loss and attributed the effect to inhibition of NF-κB. (Vitaliy Poylin et al. The NF-κB Inhibitor Curcumin Blocks Sepsis-Induced Muscle Proteolysis. Mediators Inflamm. 2008; 2008: 317851)

4. Curcumin supports tendon health*

Chinese investigators examined the effects of curcumin on a rat model of tendon injury. The authors found that curcumin administration was associated with improved tendon including: improved collagen organization and improved biomechanical properties. (Jiang D et al. Curcumin improves tendon healing in rats: a histological, biochemical, and functional evaluation. Connect Tissue Res. 2016;57(1):20-7.)

Precautions 20

Turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin are generally recognized as safe when consumed in usual culinary and herbal doses.

As with any consideration of any form of supplementation consult your healthcare provide prior to use if you are pregnant, nursing, taking any medications or have any medical conditions. Discontinue use and consult your doctor is any adverse reactions occur.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.



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 Lucas J. Bader MD

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