An ancient spice meets modern health needs.
If the aroma of carefully seasoned Indian cuisine makes your mouth water, next to the coriander and cumin in your spice box might be a bottle of ground turmeric. This yellow-orange powder that adds a peppery kick and golden tint to your favorite curry dishes comes from the ginger-family’s Curcuma longa root. And, as you may know, amidst the warm color and earthy fragrance of this tropically grown spice you’ll find curcumin—a pivotal ingredient in ancient herbal remedies that comprises about 3 percent of turmeric’s total weight.
For 4,000 years, turmeric has been on the radar for its therapeutic uses, particularly in Southeast Asia and India where it is a staple in Ayurvedic practices.1 But its value hasn’t been confined to folk medicine. Over the last few decades, more than 3,000 publications have reported on turmeric’s health benefits to include boosting immunity. These have been identified through a variety of clinical trials testing curcumin’s effects on chronic diseases associated with inflammation. As a bonus, turmeric is low in calories (24 to a tablespoon) and contains no cholesterol.1-3
In addition to these explorations, research has focused on curcumin’s lack of bioavailability. With growing support of the product’s sweeping benefits, trials have tested various curcumin formulations in effort to optimize the amount absorbed in the body. As scientists unearth the ideal packaging for this golden spice, you can guide patients through the vast scope of available information and into a healthier life.
Spice up your options
At the crossroads of natural medicine and evidence-based care, healthcare practitioners familiar with curcumin may find it relevant in a wide array of treatment plans. Curcumin supplementation can serve as a valuable tool in the areas of joint pain, inflammation, oncology, and wellness, simultaneously expanding your resources and the range of individuals who could benefit from your care.
In traditional medicine, curcumin has long been prized as a home remedy for fevers, swelling, and wounds.1 Modern trials illustrate its ability to inhibit the expression of inflammatory enzymes and molecules.1
With strong evidence of the connection between inflammation and many chronic diseases, curcumin’s value has wide implications and it could be considered a natural aid to counteract pro-inflammatory influences and oxidative stress.1 Curcumin also may be a viable, side-effect-free alternative to other approved anti-inflammatory agents, including steroids and NSAIDs.3
Research evaluating curcumin’s effects on the joints provide insight into its pain-relieving properties. A 2009 study in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine demonstrated that curcumin was equally effective and safe as ibuprofen at reducing pain and recovering function in patients with knee osteoarthritis.4 In addition, a 2012 study in Phytotherapy Research highlighted curcumin’s role in decreasing tenderness in the joints of patients with active rheumatoid arthritis.5
Therapy and prevention
As patients undergo oncology treatment, chiropractors can work with other members of a healthcare team to assist in pain management and rehabilitation.6 In this capacity, nutritional counseling may also be a valuable service.
Extensive research into curcumin’s cancer-fighting abilities and preventative properties make it a viable candidate for supplementation in cancer therapy. Although more research is needed, studies highlight curcumin as a natural polyphenol with the potential to suppress tumor cell proliferation and regulate transcription factors involved in cancerous activity.7
Mastering the mix
When advising patients about curcumin supplementation, note any other herbs or medications they’re taking and their potential interactions.8 But in general, curcumin is considered safe, as demonstrated by human trials involving dosages up to 8,000 mg per day with no evidence of toxicity.9
Of course, curcumin’s potential is only as immense as it is usable in the body. As a fat-soluble compound with poor water solubility, curcumin acting alone is apt to rapidly exit the body without imparting many of its therapeutic effects.10-12
As important components of turmeric are often lost during extraction, intense research to discover more bioavailable curcumin formulations has been conducted over the past decade. One simple remedy said to enhance the body’s retention of curcumin is the simultaneous consumption of black pepper, which contains piperine.
Studies have investigated several curcumin blends that preserve the raw turmeric root and its essential oils, resulting in a 7-fold increase in absorption.13 Others increase curcumin’s lipid or water-solubility through the addition of simple compounds, soy, and various processes including homogenization.
These efforts have shown to increase the therapeutic effects and level of curcumin in the blood.13 Familiarity with current research can help you find the best formulation and dosage for your patients.
The New York Times reported on turmeric as a remedial agent during radiation therapy. In the article, the author quotes Paul Okunieff, MD, on his view of curcumin in healthcare: “Alternative medicine becomes standard medicine when it is proven true,” Okunieff said.14 That was 2002.
Since then, science has continued to advance our understanding of this natural wonder at a swift pace, propelling it precisely into the realm of chiropractic’s doctrine of evidence-based, opioid-free care. If not for yourself, attain the necessary knowledge to make curcumin a piece of your wellness repertoire for patients who need your guidance. And as for the ground turmeric in your spice box? Perhaps you should promote it to the medicine cabinet.
1 Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. (2011). “Turmeric, the Golden Spice.” In Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S (Eds.), Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. (2nd ed., ch. 13). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
2 Hatcher H, Planalp R, Cho J, Torti FM, Torti SV. Curcumin: from ancient medicine to current clinical trials. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2008;65(11):1631-52.
3 Aggarwal BB, Harikumar KB. Potential Therapeutic Effects of Curcumin, the Anti-inflammatory Agent, Against Neurodegenerative, Cardiovascular, Pulmonary, Metabolic, Autoimmune and Neoplastic Diseases. Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2009;41(1):40-59.
4 Kuptniratsaikul V, Thanakhumtorn S, Chinswangwatanakul P, Wattanamongkonsil L, Thamlikitkul V. Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts in patients with knee osteoarthritis. J Altern Complement Med. 2009;15(8):891-7.
5 Chandran B, Goel A. A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytother Res. 2012;26(11):1719-25.
6 Schneider J, Gilford, S. The Chiropractor’s Role in Pain Management for Oncology Patients. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2001;24(1):52–57.
7 Aggarwal BB, Kumar A, Bharti AC. Anticancer potential of curcumin: preclinical and clinical studies. Anticancer Res. 2003;23(1A):363-98.
8 University of Maryland Medical Center. “Turmeric.” http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/turmeric. Updated May 7, 2014. Accessed February 25, 2015.
9 Chainani-Wu N. Safety and anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin: a component of tumeric (Curcuma longa). J Altern Complement Med. 2003;9(1):161-8.
10 Prasad S, Tyagi AK, Aggarwal BB. Recent Developments in Delivery, Bioavailability, Absorption and Metabolism of Curcumin: the Golden Pigment from Golden Spice. Cancer Res Treat. 2014;46(1): 2–18.
11 Gota VS, Maru GB, Soni TG, et al. Safety and pharmacokinetics of a solid lipid curcumin particle formulation in osteosarcoma patients and healthy volunteers. Agric Food Chem. 2010;58(4):2095-9.
12 Shehzad A, Khan S, Shehzad O, Lee YS. Curcumin therapeutic promises and bioavailability in colorectal cancer. Drugs Today (Barc). 2010;46(7):523-32.
13 Jäger R, Lowery R, Calvanese A, et al. Comparative absorption of curcumin formulations. Nutr J. 2014;13:11.
14 Nagourney E. “Vital signs: Antidotes; To Radiation Regimen, Add Spice.” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/22/health/vital-signs-antidotes-to-radiation-regimen-add-spice.html. Published October 22, 2002. Accessed February 25, 2015.