Turmeric is the venerated rockstar of all the culinary spices and a staple of traditional Ayurvedic medicine. A member of the Zingaberaceae family and a relative of ginger, turmeric contains various active constituents called curcuminoids (Chainani, 2003).
Six human trials have demonstrated that curcumin in particular, a diferuloylmethane in turmeric, elicits significant anti-inflammatory activity, and is safe at doses up to 8000 mg (8 grams) a day for up to three months with no toxicity (Chainani, 2003).
At a mechanistic level, curcumin mitigates inflammation by inhibiting an array of pro-inflammatory signaling molecules, such as the eicosanoids known as leukotrienes, thromboxanes, and prostaglandins, which elicit deleterious effects ranging from pain to blood clotting to airway constriction (Chainani, 2003).
Curcumin likewise suppresses production of monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), interferon-inducible protein, tumor necrosis factor (TNF), and interleukin-12 (IL-12), cytokines which recruit or activate immune cells and perpetuate pro-inflammatory immune cascades (Chainani, 2003). It also blocks the action of enzymes which degrade tissue such as collagenase, elastase, and hyaluronidase (Chainani, 2003).
Therefore, it is unsurprising that a systematic review and meta-analysis, the highest quality form of evidence, revealed that curcuminoids significantly reduce pain irregardless of the dose administered or the duration of treatment (Sahebkar & Henrotin, 2015).
Many functional medicine practitioners use curcumin as a first line strategy to mitigate inflammation and reduce pain in autoimmune disease, as it has proven efficacy in improving symptoms of autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (Chandran & Goel, 2012; Holt, Katz, & Kirschoff, 2005).
In addition, curcumin significantly improves barrier function, reducing translocation of lipopolysaccharide (LPS), the outer cell wall of gram-negative bacteria, from the luminal surface of the intestine into circulation (Ghosh et al., 2014).
Studies indicate that curcumin preserves integrity of the tight junctions, the dynamic intercellular proteins between intestinal cells which prohibit microbes, antigenic food particles, toxicants, and bacterial byproducts from navigating across the gut lumen and leading to autoimmune reactions (Ghosh et al., 2013).
Therefore, curcumin is a viable botanical remedy for attenuating the pathologic intestinal permeability upon which development of autoimmune disease is contingent (Fasano, 2012). Although I advocate a food-as-medicine approach, supplementation with loading doses may be warranted in acute scenarios to slash inflammation and derive more immediate benefit. Consult a functional medicine practitioner about dosing and contraindications before adding any supplement to your regimen.
The recipe below is an easy way to incorporate turmeric into your diet. If you want to invite local anti-inflammatory effects in the gut, avoid agents that facilitate systemic absorption such as coconut oil, black pepper, and lecithin. However, if your aim is to elicit systemic anti-inflammatory effects, include these agents to enhance absorption and bioavailability.
My favorite professional-grade, high quality curcumin supplement linked here is present in a liposomal formulation wherein the curcumin is bound to sunflower-derived plant phytosomes to increase delivery into systemic circulation.
What is your favorite way to use turmeric?
Chandran, B., & Goel, A. (2012). A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytotherapy Research, 26, 1719–1725. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4639.
Fasano, A. (2012). Leaky gut and autoimmune disease. Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology, 42(1), 71-78.
Ghosh, S.S. et al. (2014). Oral supplementation with non-absorbable antibiotics or curcumin attenuates western diet-induced atherosclerosis and glucose intolerance in LDLR-/- mice--role of intestinal permeability and macrophage activation. PLoS One, 9(9), e108577. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0108577
Holt, P.R., Katz, S., & Kirshoff, R. (2005). Curcumin therapy in inflammatory bowel disease: a pilot study. Digest Disease Science, 50, 2191–2193. doi: 10.1007/s10620-005-3032-8.
Sahebkar, A., & Henrotin, Y. (2015). Analgesic Efficacy and Safety of Curcuminoids in Clinical Practice: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials, 17(6), 1192-1202. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnv024.
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