Turmeric has been valued in Ayurveda, Chinese medicine and other elements of Eastern culture for thousands of years. But this is not just for its warm, peppery flavour: it’s also highly sought after for its incredible range of medicinal properties.
Indian cuisine is an especially apt example of how turmeric is used as a central ingredient of many dishes as both a nutritional addition and a remedy for sickness, pain, infections, wounds and other ailments. In fact, it is often referred to as a “holy powder” in Indian culture. This traditional admiration of turmeric is finding more and more credence in the scientific community, as modern researchers marvel at its jaw-dropping range of antioxidant, antiviral, antibiotic and other properties.
It’s also becoming increasingly common to see the use of turmeric powder for inflammation. The plant has a potent supply of curcumin in its roots, which studies have shown is behind turmeric powder’s amazing anti-inflammatory properties. This compound is capable of influencing hundreds of genes, and it can impede the activity and synthesis of several enzymes associated with inflammation. Curcumin is also the pigment that gives turmeric its disctinctive, bright yellow/orange hue.
So, does turmeric work for inflammation?
First, let’s take a look at what inflammation is. Inflammation is a perfectly normal process that the body goes through when white blood cells and various chemicals kick into action to protect you from viruses, bacteria and other unwelcome visitors. Although this process often causes heat, pain, swelling and/or redness – symptoms that osteoarthritis patients are all too familiar with – you need at least a bit of inflammation in order to stay healthy. However, the response sometimes gets out of hand and, if left untreated, becomes a chronic health issue.
Chronic inflammation is a condition linked to autoimmune disease, allergies, asthma, heart disease, cancer and a range of other diseases depending on the affected organ. Some patients would turn to over-the-counter analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to relieve the pain caused by inflammation, but these are only a short-term option: regular use of these medications can cause kidney and liver damage, cardiovascular complications and gastrointestinal issues.
The evidence showing turmeric powder is an anti-inflammatory
In contrast to ibuprofen and aspirin – common medications used to reduce the pain of inflammation – the curcumin found in turmeric is able to naturally minimise the symptoms without risking damage to your kidneys or liver. This ingredient is key to the anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric, in addition to a range of other health properties.
In a recent study, participating osteoarthritis patients had 200mg of curcumin included in their treatment plan and were compared to a control group following the same plan without any curcumin. The first group experienced increased mobility and reduced pain (i), while the control group reported no substantive benefits.
Other turmeric and anti-inflammatory research has shown that inflammatory pathways are blocked by turmeric comprising curcuminoids, which are plant-based nutrients with potent antioxidant properties. This effectively inhibits a protein that is responsible for causing pain and swelling, pointing to the viability of turmeric powder for inflammation relief.
More than just a powerful anti-inflammatory spice, turmeric is also heralded as a general booster for the immune system thanks to its significant antioxidant properties. In fact, it’s five to eight times more powerful than vitamins E and C and capable of scavenging the hydroxyl radical, arguably the most reactive of any oxidant.
Further research into curcumin has shown that it’s able to insert itself into the membrane of a cell and physically change its properties (iii). When penetrating the cell, the lead researcher of this study stated that “the membrane goes from being crazy and floppy to being more disciplined and ordered, so that information that flows through it can be controlled.”
There’s plenty more to discover about curcumin and turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties, but there’s no doubt that ancient Eastern medicine was onto something!
Further reading on turmeric anti-inflammatory research
- Healthier Talk April 10, 2011
- Alternative and Complementary Therapies February 2003, 9(1): 34-38.
- 1 Alternative Medicine Review Dec 2010, 15(4):337-44
- 2 Arthritis & Rheumatism Nov 2006, 54(11):3452-64
- 3 Journal of the American Chemical Society Apr 2009, 131(12):4490-8
- 4 Cancer Aug 2005, 104(4):879-90