Curcumin Goes Toe-to-Toe with Ibuprofen for Osteoarthritis: Comparable Efficacy, Superior Safety

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Curcumin, the main active compound in turmeric, was found to be as effective as a common NSAID drug (ibuprofen) in reducing pain and improving function in knee osteoarthritis, with fewer gastrointestinal side effects. This positions curcumin as a promising natural anti-inflammatory

Turmeric has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to treat various conditions, including inflammatory disorders. The vibrant yellow spice contains curcuminoids, compounds which have demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and other beneficial properties in laboratory studies [(Jurenka, 2009)]( The most-studied curcuminoid is curcumin (3,333 studies on alone) which gives turmeric both its color and medicinal power.

With osteoarthritis being primarily driven by inflammation, researchers were curious whether turmeric curcumin could relieve joint inflammation and damage in this common mobility-limiting condition. A landmark study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging put turmeric to the test, pitting it against a standard go-to drug for arthritis – ibuprofen [(Kuptniratsaikul et al., 2014)](

In this multicenter randomized control trial conducted at various sites in Thailand, 367 primary knee osteoarthritis patients with moderate-to-severe knee pain were selected. Participants had a median age of 60, mostly female (89%), and median BMI of 26 kg/m2 (considered “overweight”). Around 40% used knee supports and performed knee exercises regularly. Their arthritis severity ranged from minimal to severe joint defects as classified via standard X-ray analysis.

Study participants were randomly split into two groups. One group received 1,500mg daily oral dose of C. domestica (botanical name for turmeric) extracts standardized to 75-85% curcuminoids. The control group received 1,200mg daily oral dose of ibuprofen – a typical prescription strength NSAID medication. The plant-based turmeric extracts were delivered as capsules just like the drug to enable double-blinding. Participants took their assigned supplements split over three daily doses after meals for 4 weeks. Joint pain, stiffness and function were evaluated before and during treatment using the reliable WOMAC standardized questionnaire for knee arthritis. Adverse effects were also documented.


Both C. domestica and ibuprofen significantly reduced all WOMAC pain and functioning scores compared to baseline over the 4 weeks. When the improvements were compared between groups, the turmeric curcumin supplement performed just as well as ibuprofen, with no statistically significant differences in efficacy. Curcumin was also safer, with fewer reports of gastrointestinal issues like abdominal pain and dyspepsia. Almost all participants (96-97%) were satisfied with the treatment effects whether they had the drug or the natural spice extract.

This rigorous head-to-head clinical trial provides compelling evidence that an ancient Ayurvedic remedy can hold its own against modern pharmaceuticals. The curcuminoids in turmeric supplement form delivered comparable pain, stiffness and functional improvements to a common arthritis medication with less risk of side effects. The golden spice’s versatility, safety and cost-profile position turmeric curcumin as an optimal first-line natural anti-inflammatory. Patients now have another clinically-validated inflammation-fighting tool that doesn’t require taking an over-the-counter drug or prescription form with ibuprofen which carries serious yet underreported side effects.

Learn more by reading: 6 Natural Ibuprofen Alternatives Backed by Clinical Research


Jurenka, J. S. (2009). Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a major constituent of Curcuma longa: A review of preclinical and clinical research. Alternative Medicine Review, 14_(2), 141-153.

Kuptniratsaikul, V., Dajpratham, P., Taechaarpornkul, W., Buntragulpoontawee, M., Lukkanapichonchut, P., Chootip, C., Saengsuwan, J., Tantayakom, K., & Laongpech, S. (2014). Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a multicenter studyClinical interventions in aging, 9, 451-458.
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