Curcumin Fights Disease-Causing Inflammation

Man with painful elbow
June 10, 2014 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

More than one million Americans have a heart attack each year; more than half of heart attacks result in death.

Another half-million Americans die from cancer every year.

Arthritis causes millions of people to live with agonizing pain and discomfort every day.

On the surface, these may seem like three different health issues. But from my perspective as a practicing physician, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and a long list of other ailments are all caused by the same villain.

Inflammation is its name. And it is so serious that many health experts now believe that it is the root cause of almost all disease.

How do you protect yourself from an enemy with so many faces, one that can take an enormous toll on your health?

Inflammation is your body’s first line of defense against infections. You’ve seen inflammation firsthand. Remember the last time you cut your finger? The swollen, red area around the cut is inflammation at work, fighting off potentially dangerous bacteria and other invaders.

In small doses, inflammation is a lifesaver. In simple cases, inflammation solves a problem and goes away, as it should. But what if it lingers?

Chronic, whole-body inflammation is an all-too-common condition these days. Instead of a red, swollen fingertip, your entire body simmers quietly, like a slow cooker, as inflammation damages cells and tissue.

But this type of inflammation is invisible. You aren’t aware of the damage it’s doing until you’re diagnosed with heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, or some other devastating disorder.

The best way to tell if inflammation is a problem is with a simple blood test for C-reactive protein (CRP).

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A CRP score below 1 means you’re inflammation-free. But scores even a fraction of a point above 1 signal big trouble. If a patient’s CRP remains elevated for months at a time, it means there’s inflammation somewhere in that patient’s body, in the form of heart disease, cancer, or something equally troubling.

Fortunately, there is a simple way to get ahead of inflammation.

Curcumin is the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, the bright yellow seasoning used to make curries that are used in Indian cooking. It’s been used medicinally for centuries.

There are thousands of studies on curcumin. One of the best summaries I’ve seen of curcumin’s health benefits comes from an overview reported in the journal Advanced Experimental Medical Biology, which says: “Curcumin has been shown to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities and thus has the potential against various malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic illnesses.”

Good luck finding a prescription drug with those benefits, especially one that’s virtually free of side effects. Actually, don’t waste your time. Because I can tell you this — there are none!

The more scientists learn about curcumin, the more impressed they are with its health benefits, especially when it comes to reducing deadly inflammation. For example:

  • In a new human study, just one month of curcumin supplements significantly reduced CRP. This study used curcumin with enhanced absorption, an important feature you should look for when purchasing a curcumin supplement.
  • Another clinical trial concluded that a daily dose of 2,000 mg of curcumin was just as effective as 800 mg of ibuprofen for relieving pain and inflammation in patients with knee osteoarthritis.
  • Curcumin has even been found effective at reducing inflammation in cancer patients, as well as in individuals exposed to high levels of air pollution – again, something no prescription drug can do.

A patient I’ll call Sam experienced the power of curcumin a few years ago, when his blood work revealed high CRP levels. Sam listened patiently while I explained the risks that go along with inflammation and how he could lower his score with lifestyle changes, like a better diet and the right supplements.

Preventive medicine is a tough sell, especially when a patient has no symptoms, like Sam. “I hear what you’re saying, Dr. Connealy,” he said, “but I feel fine. My philosophy is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Less than a year later, Sam suffered a mild stroke, also known as transient ischemic attack or TIA.

Afterward, Sam came to see me, hoping to avoid a second, possibly more serious stroke. Now he was willing to make the lifestyle changes I recommended, including taking curcumin supplements instead of prescription drugs that had been recommended in the emergency room.

The curcumin was not only less expensive, but it also had far fewer side effects. And best of all, it helped protect Sam against a second stroke. That was seven years ago. And Sam, who I just saw last month, says he’s never felt better!

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