Efficacy of curcumin and Boswellia for knee osteoarthritis: Systematic review and meta-analysis

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2018 Dec;48(3):416-429. doi: 10.1016/j.semarthrit.2018.03.001. Epub 2018 Mar 10.


Purpose: The unfavorable safety profiles of commonly prescribed knee osteoarthritis (OA) treatments have led clinicians and patients to seek safer alternatives. Research has suggested that curcuminoid and boswellia formulations could moderate key inflammatory pathways that are associated with worsening symptoms and disease progression. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the efficacy and safety of these treatments vs. placebo or NSAIDs for knee OA.

Methods: We searched Medline, EMBASE, Google Scholar, Web of Science and the Cochrane database from inception to February 21, 2018. We also hand searched reference lists and reviewed conference proceedings. We included randomized clinical trials (RCTs) comparing curcuminoid or boswellia formulations with placebo or NSAIDs for knee OA. We calculated standardized mean differences (SMD) or risk ratios (RR) for all relevant outcomes. Meta-analyses were conducted using random effects models. Heterogeneity was assessed using the I2 statistic.

Results: Eleven RCTs (N = 1009) were eligible for analysis. Study quality was low overall, and most included RCTs were conducted on fewer than 100 participants. Both curcuminoid and boswellia formulations were statistically significantly more effective than placebo for pain relief and functional improvement. There were no significant differences between curcuminoids or boswellia and placebo in safety outcomes. Curcuminoids showed no statistically significant differences in efficacy outcomes compared to NSAIDs; patients receiving curcuminoids were significantly less likely to experience gastrointestinal adverse events. No RCTs compared boswellia against approved NSAIDs.

Conclusions: The results of our study suggest that curcuminoid and boswellia formulations could be a valuable addition to the knee OA treatment regimens by relieving symptoms while reducing safety risks. The current body of evidence is not adequate in size or quality to make any meaningful clinical practice recommendations. Further research through large, high quality RCTs probably investigating the synergistic effect of these products with other OA treatments is warranted.

Keywords: Boswellia; Curcumin; Knee osteoarthritis; Meta-analysis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Boswellia*
  • Curcumin / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / drug therapy*
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Plant Extracts
  • Curcumin