India exported 4,000 tons of turmeric in October 2009. This popular spice has been part of Asian cuisine for thousands of years. The health benefits have attracted researchers and practitioners around the world. Currently, there are 37 clinical trials in progress in the United States evaluating its active ingredient, curcumin, for inflammatory conditions and other uses.
Many spices have antioxidant properties; turmeric demonstrates anti-inflammatory benefits as well. A recent review identifies multiple mechanisms, including:
1. Down-regulation of COX-2, which is the enzyme targeted by celecoxib (Celebrex);
2. Inhibition of the production of TNF-alpha, which is the cytokine targeted by etanercept (Enbrel), infliximab (Remicade) and newer drugs; and
3. Down-regulation of enzymes that produce nitric oxide.
Research on animal models has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin in treating edema, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis and pancreatitis. Clinical trials in humans have demonstrated benefits for post-surgical edema, arthritis, eye inflammation and gastrointestinal conditions. One disadvantage of curcumin for some uses is its poor absorption from the digestive system into the bloodstream. However, this is a plus for treating gastrointestinal illness. One study showed that both normal and malignant colorectal tissue absorb pharmacologically significant amounts of curcumin.
Inflammatory bowel disease comes in several forms. The most common types are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Clinical trials have shown that curcumin in doses of 1 to 2 grams per day can be helpful, either alone or in combination with standard drugs, in reducing symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome is a less severe illness with similar symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating and altered bowel habits. Low-grade inflammation is a possible cause. A lower dose of curcumin, 72 mg of standardized turmeric extract, reduced symptoms in a pilot study for this condition.
A larger dose of curcumin, 3 g per day in divided doses (600 mg five times) a day, was tried on 25 patients with endoscopically diagnosed peptic ulcers.