Bloating, frequent diarrhea or constipation, gas, abdominal pain, even heartburn and acid reflux, can all be signs that unchecked inflammation is affecting your digestive system.
Digestive diseases are common, disruptive, and frustratingly difficult for conventional medicine to treat effectively. In addition to common digestive ailments brought on by viruses, stress, or diet, each day, millions of Americans suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis. These are serious concerns that need to be addressed but unfortunately, conventional medications for them often bring a world of unwanted side effects, too.
While there are many digestive disorders including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and Crohn’s disease, they all share one thing in common – chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
Microscopic inflammation through the small bowel and colon is a cause – and certainly an effect – of IBS. The already inflamed tissue causes the body to release inflammatory mediators that affect the enteric nerves, and change the way digestive system reacts to what would otherwise be normal operating procedure. In other words, the inflammation of the gut sends a signal to brain telling it that something is wrong. The digestive system reacts (or overreacts) by shifting into high gear, in the case of diarrhea, or slowing peristalsis dramatically, in the case of constipation.
IBS is both frustrating and commonly diagnosed. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 Americans have IBS. Of those individuals, at least 50% are referred to a gastroenterologist after reporting symptoms to their primary care doctor. These symptoms range from cramping, bloating and general digestive discomfort to diarrhea and alternating constipation. Many people who suffer from IBS can’t predict when it will occur, so travel plans – and sometimes daily life – can be difficult at best. In the worst cases, individuals need to know at all times where the nearest restroom is located.
Crohn’s Disease (CD) is another digestive disorder that causes incredible difficulties. An irritable bowel disease (IBD) found in an estimated 700,000 to 1.4 million Americans between the ages of 15 and 40, it can recur after the age of 50, just when sufferers believe they have already been through the worst. Crohn’s Disease is a lifelong condition, and can cause serious complications, permeating the intestinal tract and causing fever, pain, bloody diarrhea, and loss of appetite.
Ulcerative colitis, another IBD, is often difficult to distinguish from Crohn’s disease. In this condition, inflammation of the colon destroys patches of the mucosal lining of the colon or rectum. Aside from severe pain, symptoms also include bloody diarrhea and stools that contain mucus or pus.
Any one of these digestive disorders is extremely serious, and finding therapeutic answers is difficult. One of the other major concerns of any of these conditions is that the ability to absorb nutrients is impaired. The resulting deficiencies can cause malnutrition, anemia, and unintended, unhealthy weight loss. Drugs and surgery have been the standard treatment, particularly for colitis. Unfortunately, these drugs have major side effects.
But curcumin has none.
In an 8-week study of over 200 people with IBS, a standardized extract of curcumin was associated with up to a 25% reduction in abdominal pain, and two-thirds of participants reported an improvement in overall symptoms.1
In a small pilot study of patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative proctitis (a type of IBD) who received curcumin along with the standard anti-inflammatory drugs (including steroids), many of the patients were able to reduce or stop the medications, and inflammation markers decreased to within normal limits.2
In fact, all of the individuals with ulcerative proctitis improved, and four of five Crohn's disease patients had lowered sedimentation rates, so the treatment inhibited red blood cells from separating from plasma too quickly, as is common with certain forms of the disease.
In another randomized, double-blind, multicenter trial, individuals with ulcerative colitis received curcumin and a drug treatment (sulfasalazine or mesalamine) or the drug treatemtn and a placebo for 6 months. Of those who received curcumin, just over 4% relapsed. However, over 20% of those in the placebo group (essentially a drug-only group) relapsed.3
One of the interesting benefits of curcumin is that it has not only been shown to reduce inflammatory compounds in the intestines, it can actually strengthen the intestinal wall to prevent harmful bacteria from passing out of the intestines and reaching other organs, such as the liver and kidneys.4
Other scientific studies have shown that curcumin is effective in treating ulcerative colitis. It ameliorates damage to the colon and reduces oxidative stress due to its ability to inhibit inflammatory markers NF-kB.5