When the immune system works properly, it protects the body from bacteria, viruses, and other potential dangers. However, when the immune system is overactive, as it is during an allergic response, it can be difficult to get the symptoms – runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, and other discomforts – under control.
Allergies and asthma have been on the rise in many industrialized nations in recent decades. Whether this is due to environmental triggers, dietary changes, or shifts in weather patterns is difficult to say. However, what is known is that the problem is increasing, and curcumin is being investigated as a possible therapeutic approach.
In an allergic response, the body produces compounds that attach themselves to immune system cells called mast cells. When this happens, the mast cells release large amounts of histamine. The histamine reaction creates swelling and induces more inflammation, redness, and itching.
For anyone who suffers from allergic rhinitis, better known as “hay fever”, the physical discomforts of seasonal flare-ups are a real problem. In any given year, over 17 million adults and almost 9 million American children are diagnosed. And, even though we often dismiss the symptoms as “just allergies”, Americans take over-the-counter and prescription drugs each year to overcome them. Unfortunately, those conventional approaches usually bring a lot of unwelcome side effects, including jitteriness, fatigue, mental fog, and irritability.
Aside from seasonal allergens like pollen, house dust is a major cause of respiratory symptoms and immune system overload. More than just a housekeeping nuisance, house dust can cause bronchial asthma, atopic dermatitis, and chronic rhinitis. Just two of the most common dust mite species are responsible for almost 20 different allergen groups.
When these allergens interact with the body, the immune system responds by releasing a flood inflammatory cytokines and other markers.
During an asthma attack, for instance, these inflammatory markers cause the bronchial airways to narrow and tighten. The inflammation also produces mucous, which adds to the “out of breath” feeling. Severe attacks can be very frightening, and unfortunately, the anxiety over possible attacks can make even mild symptoms much worse. While there are medications that alleviate symptoms, they can also bring about a number of side-effects, including agitation, aggression, or depression.
Fortunately, curcumin can make a difference for both allergies and asthma sufferers. That’s not to say that anyone with asthma should throw away their inhaler just yet. But it does mean that there is a strong natural solution on the horizon.
Curcumin can stop the activation of allergic reactions. Mast cells generate leukotrienes as a response to 5-LOX (5-lipoxygenase) activity. (5-LOX, like COX-2, is a major inflammatory protein.)
In scientific testing, curcumin significantly reduced airway constriction and overresponse, and in cell studies, it reduced inflammatory marker production in lung tissue, making curcumin an excellent choice for those with asthma as well as allergies.
In both instances, leukotrienes are elevated and are the primary cause of inflammation and constriction. The 4-series leukotrienes – LTB4, LTC4, LTD4, and LTE4 – are derived from arachidonic acid in cell membranes via activity of 5-LOX. Curcumin inhibits 5-LOX activity and so inhibits leukotriene production, without the side effects of other conventional approaches.1,2
Other research shows that curcumin relieves allergic conjunctivitis, (painful swelling and redness of the eyes).
In this case, curcumin suppressed inflammation of the eyes, and dramatically reduced the inflammatory markers associated with the condition. Compared to the group without curcumin, the treatment group had less interleukin-4 (IL-4) and interleukin-5 (IL-5) throughout the body, including the conjunctiva, spleen and cervical lymph nodes.3
Other research has shown that curcumin reduces the repsonses brought about by latex allergens, and significantly inhibits the inflammatory markers in lung cells and throughout the body as well. The authors conclude that while more studies need to be done in order to understand the exact mechanisms of curcumin and allergic responses, the botanical has much therapeutic potential.4
Respiratory problems can sideline anyone. But current research shows much promise for curcumin. It inhibits the triggers that cause allergy and asthma responses in the first place – without the side effects of common synthetic drugs. More studies are needed to pinpoint the exact and proper dosages of curcumin. And, of course, more work needs to be done to see how far in advance of an allergy season curcumin should be used in order to build up a cumulative effect. But in the meantime, it is exciting to know that curcumin provides an excellent option for anyone who deals with an immune system that occasionally goes too far.