Chronic pain means everything in life requires extra effort. Getting out of bed, walking to the mailbox, tying your shoes, and opening jars can be frustrating and excruciating. Although there are many causes of chronic pain – past physical injuries, genetics and disease, dietary or nutritional deficiencies, one thing all forms of chronic pain have in common is inflammation and cellular damage.
Curcumin from turmeric (Curcuma longa) can stop them both.
Because curcumin reduces inflammation throughout the body, it is very effective at stopping pain at the source. And, because curcumin also repairs cellular damage and prevents oxidative stress, it can actually heal tissues rather than just mask symptoms.
For example, anyone who has been directly affected by rheumatoid arthritis – or knows a family member or friend who suffers from RA – knows how frustrating this condition can be. This autoimmune disease fools the body into attacking itself, and is normally known for the damage, inflammation, swelling, and pain is causes in joints. Less well-known is that rheumatoid arthritis can, in fact, attack anywhere in the body. About 1.5 million Americans deal with RA, which generally affects women more than men and can start showing symptoms in some as early as their 20s and 30s.
The immune cells involved in RA include T cells (which can be considered one of three types: helper, killer, and suppressor), and B cells, part of the adaptive immune system that responds to outside threats to the body. Autoimmune diseases like RA show a high activation of these cells, but without any apparent reason. In any case, they attack the joints and cause serious damage, inflaming the cushioning synovial tissue, and eventually wearing away the structure of the joints altogether if left untreated. This is partly due to the fact that synovial fluid provides a natural source of a ligand that helps the body properly form new bone tissue. Any disruption to the synovial fluid doesn’t just reduce the non-bone joint structure, but the very ability for new healthy bone tissue to form at all.
So far, conventional approaches have had limited value. Treatment typically starts with over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory drugs and may later include other medications that try to modulate the immune system. Unfortunately, these approaches can create problems due to side effects that include stomach damage, susceptibility to infections, and cardiovascular risk.
But curcumin offers a better, natural hope for dealing with the disease. Because it provides such extraordinary benefits for immune system modulation (making sure the immune system responds to real threats in a balanced manner), joint comfort, and protection from oxidative stress, curcumin may be the next advancement in rheumatoid arthritis care.1-7
A published study recently showed that a high-absorption curcumin (important to note, because standard curcumin extracts can be poorly absorbed and utilized) was actually considered superior to the prescription rheumatoid arthritis drug, diclofenac sodium.8
This 8-week study followed 45 subjects, randomized to three groups. All study participants had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, functional class I or II.
Group one received diclofenac sodium, 50 mg, twice daily; group two received 500 mg of high-absorption curcumin twice daily; and group three received both diclofenac sodium and high-absorption curcumin. In the curcumin groups, there were no drop outs due to adverse effects, but in the diclofenac sodium group, 14% withdrew due to adverse effects.
Laboratory studies on kidney and liver function, blood sugar, and a complete blood count were performed before and after participation. There were no significant changes in these measurements in general in all the groups. One laboratory analysis adverse event was reported in the drug (diclofenac sodium) group.
In the Disease Activity Score (“DAS 28”) assessment, high-absorption curcumin had the highest impact for reducing disease symptoms, followed by the combination therapy of curcumin with diclofenac sodium. Interestingly, the diclofenac sodium-alone group scored in last place.
The curcumin group also showed improvement over others in reducing C-reactive protein (CRP) a measure of chronic inflammation, and anti-streptococcal antibodies (ASO) titers, which are associated with severity of rheumatoid arthritis activity.
Certainly, part of the reason for curcumin’s success was due to its ability to relieve pain by reducing inflammation. But unlike the prescription diclofenac sodium, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, curcumin doesn’t damage the lining of the stomach, endanger the liver, or negatively interact with other medications.
Beyond that, curcumin will help actually heal the damaged tissue and help reverse the inflammatory damage. So it is doing much more than relieving pain, as important as that is.
Osteoarthritis is marked by intense pain caused by inflammation in the joints throughout the body. In this degenerative joint disease, the cushioning cartilage that normally absorbs weight-bearing shocks wears down, eventually causing damage to the ligaments and bones in the joints as well.
Most conventional treatment consists of fighting pain. But this is where complications set in.
The inflammation – the trigger for the pain – is caused by the release of hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins, especially PGE2. It is sustained by the inflammatory enzyme known as cyclooxygenase-2, or simply COX-2. Interestingly, inflammatory COX-2 enzymes are noted in high concentrations around cancer cells, showing how influential – and damaging –- inflammation is to health overall. In fact, controlling the COX-2 enzyme could be a possible route to controlling cancer.
As it happens, aspirin use inhibits COX-2, and as a result, aspirin users have less cancer. Unfortunately, aspirin also inhibits COX-1, another enzyme that protects blood vessels and the lining of the digestive tract. Lose that COX-1 protection, and you may get ulcers and weakened blood vessels.
The more powerful prescription COX-2 inhibiting drugs, including Vioxx®, Bextra®, (now both off the market), Celebrex®, and others initially showed no signs of stomach or blood vessel damage. Unfortunately, it was only learned later that these drugs caused strokes and heart attacks because they caused blood clotting.
Curcumin, on the other hand, inhibits the COX-2 enzyme without damaging the stomach lining or blood vessels. In fact, because it stops inflammation and cellular damage, it has been seriously investigated for pain relief from many causes.
In one clinical study, an enhanced form of curcumin was evaluated with another traditional Indian botanical, boswellia (Boswellia serrata), in individuals with osteoarthritis. It compared these two herbal ingredients to a generic form of celecoxib (known under the brand name of Celebrex®).
One group received celecoxib, 100 mg, twice daily. The other group received a 500 mg blend of a specialized, low-beta boswellia and the high-absorption. (The boswellia used in the study had reduced levels of beta-boswellic acid, which can interfere with the plant’s otherwise beneficial anti-inflammatory 5-LOX enzyme inhibition.)
The results of the study were very strong in favor of the botanicals. For pain relief, 64% of those taking the herbal ingredients (versus 29% in the drug group) improved from “moderate to severe arthritis” to “mild to moderate arthritis.”9
Because curcumin has such a strong ability to stop inflammation and structural damage, it is one of the best choices for reducing pain and helping the body to heal. It shows no side effects and when used in an enhanced form, does not require large dosages. Curcumin inhibits COX-2 enzyme activity and stops cellular damage from free radicals. It offers a natural solution – without risk – for anyone in chronic pain, whether from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or simply due to everyday activity.