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Anti-inflammatory Activity of Turmeric and Other Spices

Turmeric has anti-inflammatory activity that may make it useful for treating joint pain, diabetes, psoriasis and possibly even Alzheimer disease.

Drugs with anti-inflammatory activity are immensely popular. Millions of people take NSAIDs such as celecoxib, diclofenac, ibuprofen or naproxen on a regular basis. Such medicines can have serious downsides, increasing blood pressure, irritating the digestive tract and even raising the risk for heart attacks. Could you use natural compounds instead?

The Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Turmeric:

Q. Does turmeric have valid medicinal properties? The doctor told my son-in-law he needed a hip replacement, but turmeric cured his symptoms. Another son-in-law says turmeric works like ibuprofen for him.

A. The National Library of Medicine (www.PubMed.com) contains thousands of research articles on turmeric or its active ingredient curcumin. That’s because there is intense interest in the medicinal properties of this Indian spice.

What the Research Shows:

Curcumin is being studied for its activity against psoriasis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and a range of cancers (Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, online Oct. 11, 2016; Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 2016; Antioxidants, Oct. 25, 2016).

All of this research is being conducted in animal models, but the anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin has been shown to help nasal congestion in humans (Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, online Oct. 24, 2016).  It also has been shown to help knee pain due to arthritis when taken as a supplement (Nutrition Journal, Jan. 5, 2016).

You can learn more about the health benefits of this and many other culinary spices from our book, Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life

Is There a Downside to Consuming Turmeric for its Anti-Inflammatory Activity?

Although turmeric has anti-inflammatory activity that may help reduce the risk of colon cancer, it also has the potential to cause side effects. Some people develop allergies and, as a result, rashes. Others find that taking turmeric makes them more susceptible to bleeding or bruising.

An Oncologist Offers His Experience:

Q. Your description of turmeric as a blood thinner was news to me. I am a retired medical oncologist who’s been taking 650 mg of aspirin for more than 40 years. I have a strong family history of colon cancer (one aunt and her two brothers), so I’ve taken it as prevention.

For the past several years, I’ve noticed I bruise easily. I had no idea why until I saw your description of turmeric.

Most mornings my breakfast is three fried egg whites sprinkled with turmeric. As soon as I cut out the turmeric, voilà, my bruising stopped. Thanks for this useful tip. I may add turmeric back but in a smaller amount.

A. Turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin have been studied as anti-cancer agents as well as antioxidants (Molecular Biology Reports, Feb. 2022).  Scientists report that curcumin has anticoagulant effects both in tissue culture experiments and laboratory animals (Nutrients, March 26, 2022). We have heard from several readers that taking turmeric regularly resulted in unexpected bleeding.

If you would like more information about the pros and cons of this important medicinal and culinary spice, we recommend our book, Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life. In combination with aspirin, turmeric might have increased your risk of bruising.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Klinger NV & Mittal S, "Therapeutic Potential of Curcumin for the Treatment of Brain Tumors." Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, online Oct. 11, 2016. DOI: 10.1155/2016/9324085
  • Al-Ali K et al, "Dual Effect of Curcumin-Zinc Complex in Controlling Diabetes Mellitus in Experimentally Induced Diabetic Rats." Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 2016. DOI: 10.1248/bpb.b16-00137
  • Adalier N & Parker H, "Vitamin E, Turmeric and Saffron in Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease." Antioxidants, Oct. 25, 2016. DOI: 10.3390/antiox5040040
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  • Türel GY et al, "Curcumin induces apoptosis through caspase dependent pathway in human colon carcinoma cells." Molecular Biology Reports, Feb. 2022. DOI: 10.1007/s11033-021-06965-y
  • Olas B, "The Antioxidant, Anti-Platelet and Anti-Coagulant Properties of Phenolic Compounds, Associated with Modulation of Hemostasis and Cardiovascular Disease, and Their Possible Effect on COVID-19." Nutrients, March 26, 2022. DOI: 10.3390/nu14071390
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