Turmeric is a spice used often in Indian and North African cuisines in curry, chutneys and pickles and to season lamb and vegetables. It is sometimes used as a substitute for saffron for its color. It has been used for centuries as an anti-inflammatory in Ayurvedic medicine. In Asian countries, it is used as a mild digestive to ease liver complaints and stomach ulcers. A new study in the November issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism reports that a special extract of turmeric may offer significant pain relief and possibly prevent chronic and acute RA.
Before discussing further, it should be noted that people should not run out to the grocery store and stock up on turmeric powder in the spice aisle. The extract used in this study is not the same as turmeric sold as a spice; in fact, only a very small percent of the ground-up root that we buy in the grocery store is the protective part of the root. In addition, the compound used in the study probably makes up only about 3 percent of the weight of current store-bought turmeric supplements and it has not been tested on humans. Further studies need to be conducted to make sure this extract is safe and effective.
The researchers built on earlier research conducted with rats, which suggested that turmeric might prevent joint inflammation. The scientists used high performance liquid chromatography to break down commonly sold turmeric dietary supplements into its component parts and then isolated a turmeric extract that was free of essential oils and structurally similar to that found in commercial varieties. The extract was based largely on curcumin, (1 of 3 major phenolic curcuminoids that constitute 3-5% of turmeric) because it is believed to be the active anti-inflammatory ingredient in turmeric.
The researchers gave the extract to female rats both before and after the onset of rheumatoid arthritis and looked for changes in the rodents' bone density and integrity.
The turmeric extract appeared to block inflammatory pathways associated with rheumatoid arthritis in rats at a particularly early point in the development of the disease. The extract had a beneficial impact if given three days after arthritis set in, but not if given eight days after disease onset. The researchers concluded that turmeric stops a particular protein from starting the inflammatory process linked to swelling and joint pain. The turmeric extract also altered the expression of hundreds of genes normally involved in instigating bone destruction and swelling.
Learn more about treatments available for rheumatoid arthritis here.
Published On: November 10, 2006