Can supplements like turmeric really aid joint pain? We explain why the answer could be ‘no’ and ‘yes’ at the same time. Jim Newman explains why the answer could be ‘no’ and ‘yes’ at the same time.
Eat more ginger. Try a rose hip tea. How about garlic? Fish oil? Glucosamine? Coconut water? Turmeric? The newspapers love filling page after page with expert advice about the osteoarthritis-benefitting properties of things you probably have lurking in your fridge or cupboards.
So let’s risk incurring your wrath by stating this for starters: with the exception of turmeric (about which more in a moment) there’s little serious evidence to support any of the foods and supplements which are purported to have joint-positive effects. That includes glucosamine.
‘But I take X all the time and it definitely benefits me,” I can hear you say. To which I would say ‘great, keep taking it’.
You’ll no doubt know about the placebo effect, the idea of testing treatments against a sugar pill to ensure the benefits of any treatment outweigh the power of positive thought. Current research suggests most foods and supplements offer results no better than a sugar pill (in terms of osteoarthritis (OA) pain, at least – they may offer other health benefits).
A possible exception to that is turmeric, for which there is some evidence to suggest it may have anti-inflammatory properties that can help with the management of OA pain. It does seem to outperform placebos. I should be clear we’re talking about turmeric in supplement form here. The occasional curry won’t contain a high enough dose to affect your knee pain.
The power of the placebo
We shouldn’t, however, overlook the power of placebos. Even if you take a food or supplement for which there is zero scientific evidence, if you feel it benefits you (and providing there’s no suggestion it is harming you) than all well and good.
And that’s why, when you’re wondering whether a certain food or supplement could help your osteoarthritis, the scientific evidence and the specific answer in your case may not be the same thing.
What Is Osteoarthritis?
What does osteoarthritis look like? What are the symptoms? And short of surgery, how do you treat it?