If you’ve ever had allergies, you can well understand just how frustrating it can be when your patients have symptoms that seem to linger for days on end.
They may probably find that spicy food, particularly curry, can do wonders to help open up clogged nasal passages and stuffed ears, and sooth sore throats. As odd as it may sound, there may actually be some sound science behind some of the symptom relief that they can get.
The secret is in turmeric, which is the main spice used in the sauce for curry.
Turmeric is perhaps the best known of all the medicinal herbs in the Ayurvedic tradition. Like many of the other herbs in this tradition, it also doubles as a culinary ingredient for not only curry, but many other dishes that are popular throughout South Asia.
What is the active ingredient in turmeric that works to fight off allergic reactions? Furthermore, what does the research show about its usefulness for treating allergies?
The active ingredient in turmeric
Curcumin is the main bioactive ingredient in turmeric. In fact, it is responsible for giving turmeric its distinctive, bright, golden yellow color. Numerous research articles have shown it to have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and even antioxidant properties.
Curcumin also has shown a distinct anti-inflammatory effect. One study showed benefit equally to that of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for osteoarthritis.1
This anti-inflammatory response is similar to that needed to fight off many of the symptoms of allergies, particularly those of respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and sinusitis.
Research on the connection between turmeric and allergic reaction
A 2008 article in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research reviewed the effectiveness of curcumin in treating symptoms of both the allergic response and asthma.2 The researchers looked cellular and animal studies to show that the allergic response was significantly inhibited for those animals receiving curcumin as part of their standard diet. This indicates a need for further research to confirm these initial findings.
Another animal study from the 2013 issue of International Immunopharmacology also found that curcumin reduced the allergic response.3 In this study, a group of guinea pigs were first sensitized to allergens, before a curcumin supplement preparation was added into their regular diet.
The researchers found that those guinea pigs who received the curcumin supplement showed a reduction in a number of allergic rhinitis symptoms, including sneezing, frequency of nose rubbing, eye tearing, and nasal congestion.3
Finally, a 2016 article in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology conducted a human trial of the effects of curcumin on a group of 241 subjects who received either oral curcumin or placebo over the course of two months.4
The researchers used nasal symptoms and airflow resistance (to measure how much air was moving through the nostrils) to determine the therapeutic effect of the curcumin. At the end of the study, those subjects who received the curcumin showed reduced signs of sneezing and runny nose, as well as less nasal congestion.
These symptoms were reduced by approximately 70 percent and persisted after the trial had finished.4
If your patients are fond of Asian curry food, they may already be well ahead of the game when it comes to beating allergy symptoms.
However, for those who don’t care for spicy food, you might suggest they add turmeric/ curcumin into their regular vitamin and supplement regimen, particularly if they are prone to colds or allergy symptoms.
- Kuptniratsaikul V, Dajpratham P, Taechaarpornkul W, et al. Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis: A multicenter study. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2014;9:451-458. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24672232
- Kurup VP, Barrios CS. Immunomodulatory effects of curcumin in allergy. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. 2008 Sep;52(9):1031-1039. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18398870
- Thakare VN, Osama MM, Naik SR. Therapeutic potential of curcumin in experimentally induced allergic rhinitis in guinea pigs. International Immunopharmacology. 2013 Sep;17(1):18-25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23665314
- Wu S, Xiao D. Effect of curcumin on nasal symptoms and airflow in patients with perennial allergic rhinitis. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2016 Dec;117(6) 697-702. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1081120616310547