Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil, Aspirin, Naproxen Sodium, etc., either prescription or over-the-counter, can help with musculoskeletal pain by decreasing inflammation. These drugs are often the first line of treatment for muscle, joint, neck or back pain, and even nerve pain such as radiculopathy caused by a compressed nerve. Nature has its own powerful anti-inflammatory and you may have it already in your spice rack at home. It is called Turmeric. Turmeric is a spice frequently used in curry dishes and for flavoring mustards. It is a root similar to ginger and beyond adding delicious flavor to food, it has been used for centuries for its many health benefits.
The major active component of Turmeric root is called Curcumin, which is what gives the spice its bright yellow-orange color. There are over 6,000 articles published in peer-reviewed journals looking at the impact of Turmeric and Curcurim on health, disease treatment, and disease prevention. Curcumin decreases inflammation by inhibiting the mediators of inflammation such as cytokines, chemokines, and adhesion molecules as well as cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2).1-4 Beyond the science of how it works, a recent randomized double blind placebo-controlled study of people with mild to moderate knee arthritis showed improvement in symptoms taking 500mg of a cucurminoid complex three times per day and this improvement was not seen in the placebo group5. Another study of patients taking a proprietary form of curcumin showed a significant reduction in pain and stiffness with improved joint function6. A number of other studies have demonstrated the positive impact of turmeric/curcumin in patients with rheumatoid arthritis7,8. More recent studies have begun to look at the impact of curcumin in protecting and healing nerve related conditions in animal models. These studies are showing promising results9,10. The benefits of curcumin go beyond just musculoskeletal health and it has been shown to have additional health benefits such as decreasing the likelihood that a person with pre-diabetes will progress to diabetes11.
Turmeric can be included in the diet or taken as a supplement. When including it in the diet it can be used with sautéed or roasted vegetables, mixed into soups, vegetable juice and smoothies, or used to flavor olive oil in a salad. The bioavailability of curcumin is increased 2,000% when taken together with black pepper, so add a shake or two of pepper to enhance its effects. For those who do not want to increase turmeric in their diets there are supplements on the market that combine curcumin with peperine, which is the phytonutrient in black pepper shown to be responsible for the increased bioavailability of curcumin. When taken as a supplement, the recommended dose is 1,000-3,000mg per day.
Turmeric and curcumin are safe to use for most people. Women who are pregnant and nursing should avoid eating large amounts or taking supplements because there are not sufficient studies to prove safety. Additionally, because turmeric and curcumin may thin the blood, those taking blood thinning medication should be cautious of this as it may increase the risk of bruising and bleeding. Patients should stop taking turmeric/curcumin supplements 2 weeks prior to surgical or interventional procedures where bleeding may be a risk. For most people though, turmeric won’t just spice up your food, it can have a positive impact on your musculoskeletal health.
- Goel A, Aggarwal BB. Curcumin, the golden spice from Indian saffron, is a chemosensitizer and radiosensitizer for tumors and chemoprotector and radio protector for normal organs. Nutr Cancer 2010;62: 919-930.
- Goel A, et al. Specific inhibition of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) expression by dietary curcumin in HT-29 human colon cancer cells. Cancer Lett 2001; 172:111-118.
- Goel A, et al. Curcumin as ‘Cure-cumin’: from kitchen to clinic. Biochem Pharmacol 2008b; 75:787-809.
- Reuter S, et al. Epigenetic changes induced by curcumin and other natural compounds. Genes Nutr 2011; 6:93-108
- Panahi Y, et al. Curcuminoid Treatment of Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Double Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial. Phytother Res 22 May 2014
- Belcaro G. et al. Efficacy and safety of Meriva®, a curcuin-phosphatidylcholine complex, during extended administration in osteoarthritis patients. Alternative Med Rev; J Clin Therapuetics 2010; 15(4):337-344.
- Park C, et al. Curcumin induces apoptosis and inhibits prostaglandin E(2) production in synovial fibroblasts of patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Int J Mol Med 2007; 20(3):365-372.
- Chandran B, et al. A randomized pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytother Res 2012; 26(11):1719-1725
- Jeon Y, et al. Curcumin could prevent the development of chronic neuropathic pain in rats with peripheral nerve injury. Curr Ther Res 2013; 74:1-4
- Holly L, et al. Dietary therapy to promote neuroprotection in chronic spinal cord injury. J Neurosurg Spine 2012; 17:134-140.
- Chuengsamarn S, et al. Curcumin extract for prevention of Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care 2012; 35(11):2121-2127