Anti-inflammatory herbs: Turmeric

Excerpt from Dr. Susan Lark’s Healing Herbs for Women

Turmeric has been used for thousands of years in Indian cooking and in India’s traditional Ayurvedic medicine. The turmeric plant, grown from India to Indonesia, is related to ginger and has pulpy, orange, tuberous roots that grow to about two feet in length. It is an indispensable part of the mixture of spices known as curry powder. The medicinally active compound in turmeric is curcumin, the rich orange-yellow pigment that gives turmeric its characteristic orange-yellow color.

For thousands of years, curcumin has been used in both Chinese and Indian systems of medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent and for the treatment of numerous health conditions. Modern research corroborates its use as an anti-inflammatory.

A review article on curcumin, published in the American Journal of Natural Medicine, summarized several studies done in India that document curcumin’s usefulness as an anti-inflammatory agent. In one clinical trial, patients with rheumatoid arthritis were given either curcumin (1200 mg per day) or phenylbutazone (300 mg per day), an anti-inflammatory drug known to have serious side effects. The patients were then assessed for the length of time they were able to walk, persistence of morning stiffness, and degree of swelling in the joints. When the results were tabulated, the researchers found curcumin to be as beneficial as the drug therapy in reducing symptoms.

In another study, curcumin was also found to be as effective as cortisone, a potent medical anti-inflammatory. This article noted that an added benefit of curcumin is that it does not normally cause side effects, providing a safe alternative to these powerful anti-inflammatory drugs, which can cause gastric irritation and even peptic ulcers in susceptible people.

Curcumin’s therapeutic benefits occur through several mechanisms. Curcumin reduces inflammation by inhibiting leukotriene formation and platelet aggregation. It also promotes the break-up of blood clots and inhibits the inflammatory response to various stimuli. There is some indication that curcumin has an indirect effect on reducing inflammation through the adrenal gland or its hormones.

The most likely explanation is that it increases the effectiveness of the body’s own cortisone, which is one of the body’s major anti-inflammatory hormones. Curcumin may do this by sensitizing or priming cortisone receptor sites, thereby potentiating cortisone’s action. It may also act by increasing the half-life of cortisone through reducing its breakdown by the liver. While the long-term use of prescription cortisone has been associated with serious side effects, including adrenal atrophy, osteoporosis, and diabetes mellitus, curcumin has been found to be as effective as cortisone with no toxicity.

Suggested Dosage: The recommended dosage for curcumin as an anti-inflammatory agent is 400 to 600 mg three times a day. It is often formulated with an equal amount of bromelain to enhance absorption. This combination is best taken on an empty stomach, twenty minutes before meals or between meals. Toxicity reactions have not been reported at standard dosage levels.

Since curcumin has blood thinning effects, its use should be avoided in people on blood thinning drugs like Coumadin. It should not be used by pregnant or nursing women.

For more information about turmeric or other herbs that have anti-inflammatory properties, see my book “Dr. Susan Lark’s Healing Herbs for Women” available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle and from Womens Wellness Publishing.

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