Traditional Ayurvedic medicine has used Curcumin (found in Turmeric) for centuries to treat inflammation. Ayurveda is a natural system of medicine, originated in India more than 3,000 years ago. The term Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge). Thus, Ayurveda translates to knowledge of life.
Companies extract the Curcumin substance from the Turmeric plant (Curcuma longa). In the past few decades, the scientific community over the world has shown an increased interest in Curcumin. This is because it appears to have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, and it may even help in the fight against cancer.
The effect of Curcumin on inflamed joint cells
Scientists have carried out numerous, extensive studies on the anti-inflammatory properties of Curcumin in vitro (i.e in a petri dish containing loose cells or pieces of tissue). This research has shown that Curcumin inhibits the production of new pro-inflammatory cytokines and prostaglandins in inflamed cells.
This results in the inflammation no longer being ‘communicated’ to other cells, which can stop this negative, inflammation process. Moreover, Curcumin stops the formation of COX-2 and 5-LOX, two enzymes responsible for inflammation, in various ways. It also reduces the production of MMPs (enzymes that cause cartilage to breakdown) in inflamed cartilage tissue. As a result, this immediately slows down the breakdown of cartilage.
An important mechanism that enables Curcumin to produce these effects is the lowering of the action of transcription factor NF-κB. Usually, this transcription factor is activated by stress stimuli, like inflammation factors (TNF-α and IL-1β), extreme impact/mechanical stress or the presence of cartilage breakdown products. By controlling NF-κB activity, Curcumin is able to stop the production of the inflammation factors TNF-α and IL-1β, as well as the degradation of cartilage by MMPs. Curcumin also reduces the production of prostaglandins and COX-2 in inflamed joint mucous membrane cells, and it can reduce the number of mucous-membrane cells. This means that, Curcumin has a positive effect on the degenerative inflammation process in diseases of the joints, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA).
Practical uses of Curcumin
However, as usual with in vitro research, these results for Curcumin effects don’t reflect how it may actually work in clinical practice. If someone regularly eats Turmeric found in the kitchen cupboard, the question remains ‘how much of this actually ends up fighting the inflammation’? This is due to the fact that Curcumin is not optimally absorbed in the gastro-intestinal tract. So, would consuming higher doses of Curcumin help to see an effect? That is a possible option, but even so, it would not necessarily translate into a highly effective treatment. Therefore, some scientists who truly believe in the power of Curcumin, have devised ways to increase its absorption. Sometimes we can combine it with another substance to allow the intestinal wall to better absorb it and transport it into the blood stream. Or another option would be to link it with a molecule that enables a better attachment to the intestinal cell membranes.
A recent study into Curcumin and ‘turmeric essential oils’ (which naturally boost the absorption of Curcumin) have proven these efforts to be successful. Patients suffering from RA described a decrease in pain and an improved function when taking this type of Curcumin. This improvement was similar to or often higher than that reported by the control group (which were given diclofenac (an NSAID) in the same period). Furthermore, the levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP), an inflammation protein, in the blood had decreased more in the group taking Curcumin than in the control group (taking NSAID).
A possible explanation is because Curcumin and NSAIDs have different effects in the body. Curcumin inhibits the production of TNF-α, however, NSAIDs do not inhibit the production of TNF-α. Considering Curcumin acts as an effective anti-inflammatory without side effects (unlike NSAIDs, which have many, often serious, side effects), it is no surprise that many people are now opting for this natural, safe and equally – if not more – effective substance extracted from the Turmeric plant. Another massive advantage with using Curcumin, is that it is safe to use in combination with other medications.
To boost the absorption of Curcumin even further, a liquid formulation is recommended, as these contain a Curcumin variant with a higher bioavailability (so easier to absorb in the body). Such liquid treatments also require a lower dose to achieve the same effect, because it is easier for the gastro-intestinal tract to absorb from a liquid than from dry powders and capsules.
In summary, Curcumin is a NF-κB suppressor, which demonstrates huge potential in the treatment for osteoarthritis, a disease with an underlying inflammatory cause. Its effectiveness could lead to reduce pain, improved physical function, and improved quality of life amongst osteoarthritic patients.