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Turmeric for Joint Pain

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Turmeric is described as the spice to reduce joint pain. This effect is due to curcumin, a compound responsible for the use of turmeric as food colorant. Is curcumin more than a substance to make foods more colorful? Read on to find out.

What is Turmeric?

Turmeric is a spice which belongs to the plant family, Zingiberacaea. This means that it is related to ginger. Like ginger, turmeric is also a rhizome. It is native to the tropical parts of South Asia where it features prominently in the local cuisine.

Turmeric or Curcuma longa can be used fresh or powdered. Powdered turmeric is first boiled for some hours before it is dried in ovens. Powdered turmeric is sold as a deep orange-yellow powder. It is used as a spice and curry content in Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures. Besides serving as a flavor, turmeric is also used to color food and dye cloths.

The most popular constituent of turmeric is curcumin.

Besides curcumin, turmeric also contains 5% volatile oils including turmerones, bisacurone and curcumyl alcohol. These other constituents of turmeric are responsible for the antifungal and antibacterial properties of the herb.

Turmeric is a common ingredient in curry. Powdered turmeric is used for spicing food and in places where it grows the fresh leaves are used to wrap food before cooking.

Turmeric is commonly added to a wide variety of foods and drinks. It is used in canned beverages, ice cream, yogurt, popcorn, biscuits, sweets, cakes, cake icings, orange juice, cereals and sauces.

Besides its food applications, turmeric is also an ancient herb used in religious ceremonies in many old and current cultures.

It is also used in cosmetics. Traditional uses of turmeric for this purpose include in bridal beautification and to improve skin tone. It is an anti-aging agent, an antioxidant and a topical antimicrobial agent.

Turmeric is used to acquire tans safely. Since it blocks sunlight, it is also found in some sunscreens.

A group of compounds found in turmeric and called tetrahydrocurcuminoids are currently being investigated for their antioxidant properties and abilities to lighten the skin and reduce skin inflammations.

The FDA classifies turmeric as “generally regarded as safe” and curcumin is regarded as a non-toxic dietary pigment.

What is Curcumin?

The chemical name of curcumin is diferuloylmethane.

Curcumin is one of the 3 curcuminoids in turmeric. The other ones are desmethoxycurcumin and bis-desmethoxycurcumin. However, curcumin makes up 90% of the curcuminoid content of turmeric.

These 3 compounds are polyphenols and they are responsible for the yellow coloration of turmeric as well as the earthy, bitter-peppery taste and mustard smell of the herbal spice.

As a food colorant, curcumin is described as brightly yellow with an E number of E100. As a food additive, it is also called Natural Yellow 3 or C.I. 75300. Curcumin also protects food products from the sunlight which can fade off their colors. For this reason, it is added to over-color these foods so as to make up for fading.

The culinary use of curcumin as a colorant extends to its combination with annatto to color dairy products such as cheese, yogurt as well as butter and margarine.

Curcumin has a special affinity for boron compounds. With boric acid, it forms rosocyanine. The compound also exists in 2 forms: a keto and an enol form. The enol form is more stable form and it is the form in which curcumin is mostly found in solution or as a solid.

Because of its special nature, curcumin can also be used to test the acidity or alkalinity of food much like a litmus paper.

This natural pH indicator turns red in alkaline solution and yellow in acidic solution.

Medical Uses of Curcumin

Recently, there has been renewed interest in the medical uses of curcumin. There are a growing number of early investigational researches that point to a long list of medical applications for curcumin and turmeric extracts.

Clinical Trials Show That Curcumin May...
  • Be an effective antimicrobial agent since it was effective against fatal bacterial infections such as septicemia caused by Vibrio vulnificus.
  • Protect the liver as it was found to be hepatoprotective in rats
  • Have antiviral activities since it interferes with structural proteins and replication processes of HIV and HSV-1 (Herpes simplex virus-1)
  • Protect against HSV-2
  • Useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease since it reduced memory impairment caused by beta-amyloid proteins in rat and shrank plaques while improving neural dystrophy in mice
  • Induce cell death in cancer cells while sparing healthy cells

Other medical conditions for which there are evidences of the effectiveness of curcumin include Parkinson disease, pulmonary disease, diabetes, wound healing and arthritis.

Possible benefits are also indicated in the treatment of atherosclerosis, hypercholesteramia, ulcerative colitis, pancreatitis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease.

The diverse effects of curcumin include the upregulation of proteins such as p53, p21 and p27; the downregulation of cyclin D1 and E; regulation of the activities of adhesion molecules, survival proteins in cells, and cytokines and enzymes that contribute to inflammation; inhibiting specific kinases; and overseeing the activation of certain transcription factors.

Therefore, curcumin shows antitumor, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, anti-ischemic, anti-amyloid, anti-angiogenic and anti-proliferative properties.

It has also been shown to be safe for therapeutic uses even when 12 grams of the herb was ingested for 3 months.

However, curcuma extract can worsen gallstones. It also prevents blood clotting, and so must not be used with anticoagulants such as warfarin or 2 weeks before a major surgery.

Curcumin capsules are formulated with piperine, a natural compound found in pepper.

Only a very small amount of curcumin reaches the blood, plasma and tissues following administration. This is because the compound is poorly absorbed, quickly metabolized and rapidly eliminated from the body.

Piperine is added to curcumin preparations to improve the absorption of curcumin and reduce metabolism. Curcumin can also be delivered as nanoparticles, as phospholipid complexes or in the form of a more stable analog serving as a prodrug.

Curcumin and Joint Pain: The Studies

Turmeric is increasingly praised as the spice that reduces joint pain.

Given the wide variety of the therapeutic properties of curcumin, the ability of turmeric to reduce joint pain is easily demonstrable. In fact, it is one of the few alternative medicine remedies overwhelmingly embraced by prescribing doctors for the treatment of arthritis.

Both the antioxidant and antimicrobial properties of curcumin can help prevent the degeneration of the cartilage by protecting it from toxins, free radicals and bacteria that may damage the synovial membrane.

In addition, the anti-inflammatory property of curcumin has been demonstrated in different animal models. For example, a 1997 study published in the journal, Molecular Cell Biochemistry found that in rats, curcumin reduced the production of an inflammatory glycoprotein.

It was also found to reduce induced paw inflammation in mice and rats in a different study published in Agents Actions.

A 1980 study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research demonstrated that patients given 1200 mg of curcumin per day for 2 weeks, followed by a course of phenylbutazone for another 2 weeks, showed improvements in joint swelling and morning stiffness as well as reduced joint pain.

A 2009 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that 2 grams of turmeric extract was just as effective as ibuprofen for reducing joint pain caused by osteoarthritis of the knee.

In that study, each of the 107 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee was given either 800 mg of ibuprofen or 2 g of turmeric extract daily for 6 weeks. The results showed that both ibuprofen and turmeric extract was effective for reducing joint pain and that there was no difference between the pain scores of both groups of patients.

Curcumin and Joint Pain: The Mechanisms of Action

Different studies have provided possible mechanism of action for the ability of curcumin to reduce joint pain.

First, curcumin inhibits the arachidonic acid pathway that produces pain and inflammation mediators such the enzymes that synthesize prostaglandins and leukotrienes. Examples of prostaglandins and leukotrienes blocked by curcumin are PGE2, LTB4 and LTC4.

Secondly, curcumin blocks the expression of certain genes in the cells of the cartilage. This prolongs the lifespan of chondrocytes and improves their ability to withstand oxidative stress.

Thirdly, curcumin inhibits the synthesis of nitric oxide and TNF-alpha (tissue necrosis factor-alpha) by inhibiting the pathways that produce them.

Furthermore, curcumin blocks the incorporation of arachidonic acid in the synovial membrane. It also reduces the secretion of the collagenase, elastase and hyaluronidase from the macrophages of the immune system. These are the 3 enzymes responsible for the degradation of the cartilage. Their activity ultimately leads to joint pain.

Lastly, curcumin inhibits the factors that reduce the production of type II collagen. Therefore, it can help contribute to the rejuvenation of the cartilage by increasing the production of collagen.

The overall effect of these different pathways is that curcumin protects the cartilage from degradation while also reducing inflammation and promoting the production of new cartilage.

By doing all of these, curcumin is an effective remedy for reducing joint pain.

How to Use Turmeric for Joint Pain

Turmeric is available in capsules, tea, powder form, liquid drops and topical paste.

While there are no recommended daily doses for turmeric, most experts advise taking 250 mg to 600 mg of turmeric capsule 3 times daily.

Those who have fluid extract of turmeric should take 30 to 90 drops per day. For dried, powdered roots, 1 – 3 grams per day is the recommended dose.

Although it is safe for most people, turmeric extract is not recommended for pregnant women, those with gall stones or impaired liver functions and those who are taking blood thinners.

The common side effects of turmeric are stomach upsets, diarrhea, vomiting and peptic ulcers.





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