Osteoarthritis, the joint pain that develops as the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears down over time, affects millions. People with osteoarthritis or OA often experience a vicious cycle: as they move less to avoid the pain, the decreasing movement leads to increased pain, loss of muscle tone and further disability.

At the moment, there are no drugs available to prevent this joint damage. Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Tylenol® and Advil® can relieve the pain to a degree, but their long-term side effects make them risky to use. Physical therapy is also sometimes prescribed to keep joints moving, but it, too, is no cure.

Patients taking the turmeric supplements reported less pain than those taking a placebo.

There is one thing you can do to help your creaky joints feel a little less painful and possibly keep osteoarthritis at bay. Turmeric, a spice containing the compound curcumin, with its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties can ease the pain of inflamed knees, a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine has found.

Turmeric and curcumin’s inflammation-fighting properties have been known for a while, and this study expands on those earlier results. Seventy people with knee osteoarthritis took part in the research. Everyone in the study was experiencing knee pain and ultrasounds of their knees showed swelling in their knee joints. People were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Roughly half were given two capsules containing 200 mg of curcuma longa extract a day for 12 weeks; the other received two capsules of an inactive placebo a day, also for 12 weeks.

No one — neither participants nor researchers — knew who in the randomized, double-blind study was being given turmeric and who were given the placebo.

The study design meant that participants’ reports of their pain medication use and quality of life and the researchers’ expectations were not biased by knowing who was being treated with turmeric and who wasn’t.

After 12 weeks, the researchers found that patients taking the turmeric supplements had reported less pain than those in the placebo group; they also had no adverse events, such as allergic reactions or gastrointestinal problems. People in the group taking the turmeric supplement consumed fewer pain medications compared to the participants in the placebo group. There was no difference in the structure of knee cartilage between the groups, however.

The modest effect of the turmeric extracts on knee pain, as well as the small size and short duration of the study, led the researchers to recommend multicenter trials with larger sample sizes and a longer follow-up period so the clinical significance of their findings could be made clearer.

There is really no downside to trying turmeric to help ease joint pain. The spice is common in Indian, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian and Thai cooking and is one of the primary ingredients of curry powder. You can use turmeric as a spice or spice blend to cook with, but the best way to get a more concentrated dose of curcumin is by taking turmeric or curcumin supplements.

Pregnant women and those with kidney stones, diabetes, iron deficiency and gallbladder disease should avoid curcumin supplements unless instructed to take them by their healthcare providers.