BotanicalsHealthy Aging

A Golden Remedy for Musculoskeletal Health

Curcuminoids, the famous active compounds from turmeric, deliver benefits for joint health and exercise recovery

Liquid gold. Golden milk. That brilliant saffron-hued spice. We hear a lot about turmeric these days—also known as Curcuma longa—a member of the ginger family, and native of Southeast Asia.[1]

Valued for its brilliant hue and distinctive spicy-bitter flavor, its use as a dye, a spice, and in religious ceremonies dates back nearly 4,000 years.[2],[3] Turmeric is a mainstay in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, thanks in large part to curcuminoids—three bright golden-colored, lipophilic polyphenols, collectively known as “curcumin” derived from the plant’s rhizomes.[4],[5] Curcumin was first isolated almost 200 years ago.[6]

The anti-inflammatory action of curcumin is widely known, and the benefits of this property may not only improve the pain of arthritis, but also recovery from exercise.

Curcuminoids exhibit antioxidantanti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal activity.[7] The anti-inflammatory action of curcumin is widely known, and the benefits of this property may not only improve the pain of arthritis, but also recovery from exercise.[8],[9] Considering that curcuminoids only make up 2-5% of turmeric, however, it’s important to use curcumin products that have been shown to be bioavailable when seeking out the maximum health benefits of turmeric.

Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin

Curcumin is well recognized for its ability to boost the activity of anti-inflammatory molecules in the body.[10],[11] It functions as a potent antioxidant, proving helpful in a variety of conditions including diabetes, osteoarthritis, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular conditions, and neurodegenerative diseases.[12],[13],[14],[15] It increases activity of two of the body’s main antioxidant enzymes, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase,[16],[17] also increasing levels of glutathione in both cellular and human studies.[18],[19]

Curcumin functions as a potent antioxidant, proving helpful in a variety of conditions including diabetes, osteoarthritis, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular conditions, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Curcumin can trigger the expression and production of interleukin 10 (IL-10), a cytokine with potent inflammation-regulating activity.[20] IL-10 is a key factor controlling a variety of inflammatory conditions, including osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and has been described by some researchers as a “master switch” that can turn off inflammatory activity in the body.[21] Curcumin’s demonstrated ability to boost IL-10 production suggests the usefulness of this golden remedy in alleviating inflammation and modulating the immune response.[22]

Curcumin and arthritis

Several studies have confirmed the beneficial effects of curcumin in humans with either rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.[23]

RA is a chronic, systemic, autoimmune disease that often damages both the bone and cartilage, leading to pain, limited mobility, and in some cases, frank physical disability.[24] In one 90-day randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, a bioavailable form of curcumin at dosages of either 250 mg or 500 mg twice daily was shown to significantly alleviate symptoms of RA compared to the placebo group, which had no improvement.[25] Other studies, both in humans and animals, have shown similar benefits.[26],[27]

Several clinical studies have shown curcumin improves pain, physical function, and quality of life scores in individuals with OA.

Curcumin has also demonstrated usefulness in the management of OA, a chronic joint condition that affects over 250 million people worldwide and is marked by inflammation, including elevated inflammatory cytokine levels.[28],[29] Over 80 percent of individuals over the age of 55 experience OA in at least one joint.[30] In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, individuals with OA of the knee who received 500 mg of curcuminoids three times daily experienced significantly fewer clinical symptoms than the placebo group, including improvements in pain and physical function scores.[31] Several other clinical studies have shown similar improvements in pain, physical function, and quality of life scores in individuals with OA.[32]

Potent effects on muscle pain

Joint and muscle pain often go hand in hand, and curcumin also shows promise in reducing the inflammation and sore muscles resulting from intense exercise. In one randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover pilot study conducted on ten adult rugby players, curcumin reduced several indicators of post-exercise muscle damage.[33] In another double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study the impact of bioavailable curcumin on muscle damage and recovery following a session of running downhill was assessed.[34] In this study, 200 mg of bioavailable curcuminoids taken daily was observed to attenuate performance decrements following a muscle damaging exercise (downhill running), suggesting it may lead to improvements in training if used on an ongoing basis.

Curcumin bioavailability

Curcumin’s array of impressive health benefits is often limited by the naturally poor bioavailability of curcuminoids, as these compounds naturally are minimally absorbed and rapidly eliminated from the body.[35] A new curcumin formulation shows greater uptake and bioavailability than standard curcumin and even many of the “enhanced” phytosome formats currently available.[36],[37] This curcumin formulation – which entails using a molecular dispersion process to dissolve a highly purified powder, consisting of at least 95% curcuminoids, in a water-soluble base, followed by the addition of antioxidants to protect the curcumin from degradation – showed a 45.9-fold increase in oral absorption as compared with other methods of preparation in one study, as well as dramatically increased serum concentrations after 12 hours.

Summary

Curcumin’s popularity and reputation as a golden botanical continues to increase as studies confirm its traditionally acclaimed properties and health benefits, and as scientists find means to dramatically enhance its bioavailability.  Evidence to date suggests that curcumin has both analgesic and anti-inflammatory activities useful for the management of both RA and OA. In addition, curcumin may help reduce the inflammation and sore muscles resulting from intense exercise.

 

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