Turmeric as an Anti-Inflammatory

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Inflammation is the human body's biological response to irritation, injury, or infection. It is a protective measure on the part of the body, intended to limit the damage caused by harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, irritants, or damaged cells and tissue. A common symptom of many conditions, inflamation typically includes redness, pain, and swelling. It can occur either internally, within body tissue, or externally on the surface of the skin. Wherever it occurs, however, inflammation causes discomfort.

Turmeric, a yellow spice related to ginger and an important ingredient in curry, has long been a staple of traditional medicine. Used for centuries in India and China to treat a variety of ailments, turmeric has numerous beneficial effects on health. Taken internally, turmeric provides remedy for the lung congestion caused by respiratory conditions such as bronchitis. Externally applied, whether topically as a powder or made into a paste which is rubbed on the inflamed area, turmeric is used to treat cuts and scrapes, as well as acne, dermatitis, and diaper rash. The reason for this is turmeric's anti-inflammatory properties, which in addition to relieving swelling are also believed to reduce the risk of infection.

Turmeric's active component is curcumin, an antioxidant that has been proven to reduce inflammation. Curcumin, whose chemical name is diferuloylmethane, has been found by researchers to hinder the activity of two enzymes, called lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). These enzymes are responsible for both promoting and maintaining inflammation. Curcumin, by minimizing the effects of these enzymes, may also reduce inflammation as well as the pain that often accompanies it. In addition, curcumin is believed to lower the levels of histamine in the body while increasing the production of cortisone by the adrenal glands.

In recent years, researchers have begun to seriously study turmeric and curcumin, in order to determine the extent of their efficacy in preventing the onset of certain conditions. Many are also attempting to use turmeric as a basis for new treatments for a number of chronic diseases, particularly ones that do not respond well to conventional drug therapies. A study published in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutic Toxicology reports that curcumin is highly effective in reducing post-surgical inflammation, while researchers at the University of Arizona have found evidence to support turmeric's reputation as an anti-inflammatory agent specifically in regard to the joint inflammation that is common to sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis.

It is not known why turmeric is such an effective anti-inflammatory agent, but one common theory holds that curcumin causes a protein called NFkB, or Nuclear Factor-Kappa B, to remain dormant. NFkB determines which genes are turned on or off and when; it also increases the production of inflammatory proteins, which often attack the joints. By suppressing this protein, curcumin thus reduces incidences of inflammation. This idea, if correct, suggests that turmeric's therapeutic applications are far-reaching. In addition to the conditions named above, turmeric may also be used to treat a host of other inflamatory conditions, including asthma and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

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