Turmeric is a lovely orange-yellow spice with a slightly bitter/hot flavor and mustardy smell. Claims of its restorative and healing properties have sparked further study on how it may influence a variety of aliments including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and arthritis.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a underground stem/root (rhizomatous) plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. It's roots (rhizomes) are boiled, dried, and ground into a deep orange-yellow powder that's used as a tasty spice in many Asian cuisines. It also has a long history as a natural dye.
Turmeric has historically been used in India as a major part of Tamil Traditional Medicine, or Siddha medicine. For thousands of years it's been ingested as a remedy for stomach aliments and used topically to heal sores or various skin conditions.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it's also used for treatment of various infections and as an antiseptic.
More recently, turmeric found it's way to the legal spotlight when in 1995, a U.S. patent on turmeric was awarded to the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
The patent was written for the “use of turmeric in wound healing,” and also gave the Center exclusive rights to sell and distribute the herb.
Within two years, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, an Indian government organization, filed a bio-piracy complaint arguing its usage was documented and practiced for thousands of years.
Subsequently, the patent was removed and was proven to be anti-competitive, yet the case continues to spark discussions around issues of bio-piracy, international trade, and globalization of intellectual property rights.
These include curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin. The most studied compound iscurcumin which makes up for approximately 3-5% of turmeric powder.
Within the past two decades, 6000+ published articles have discussed the molecular basis for the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, and anticancer properties of curcumin.
Additionally, over 65 clinical trials have been conducted seeking to understand how it may aide in the treatment of various chronic conditions, including autoimmune, cardiovascular, neurological, and psychological diseases, as well as diabetes and cancer.
Some of studies below have focused on curcumin, while others focus on turmeric as a whole.
Recent overviews/studies have been published by several organizations that discuss the promising preliminary evidence for the possible treatment of indigestion, ulcerative colitis, atherosclerosis, certain cancers, and Alzheimer's disease; the potential to influence the number and size of precancerous bowel polyps; and wound healing and health benefits for individuals with type 2 diabetes.
However, it's clear larger sample sizes and more sophisticated studies are needed to determine more accurate conclusions regarding the effects and efficacy in humans.
From a massage therapy perspective, I'm going to focus on its potential anti-inflammatory properties, particularly in chronic conditions like arthritis. A study published in 2014 reported that, "the combination of emu oil with curcumin will be a promising approach for the treatment of arthritis."
I found much of my research seemingly dominated by studies on Meriva®. Meriva is a proprietary curcumin-phosphatidylcholine phytosome complex. Let's uh, break that down:
- Proprietary simply means someone owns it or created it, which as was discussed earlier, no one can "own" plain ol' turmeric, and by extension, curcumin. But you can own the rights to a special blend of curcumin plus some other stuff, like:
- Phosphatidylcholines: a major component of biological membranes that can be easily extracted from a variety of sources like egg yolk or soybeans, and is a vital substance found in every cell of the human body. And...
- Phytosome: a complex of a natural active ingredient and a phospholipid, which some claim helps increase the absorption of herbal extracts.
There's a fair amount of research available that's specifically on Meriva, hence it dominating my search results. Here is a sampling: A randomised, placebo-controlled, single-blind pilot trial published in 2014 concluded, "curcuminhas the potential for preventing delayed-onset-muscle-soreness (DOMS), as suggested by its effects on pain intensity and muscle injury. Larger studies are needed to confirm these results and further clarify the mechanism of action of curcumin."
An eight-month study published in 2010 found, "significant improvements ... were observed forMeriva compared to the control group. This, coupled with an excellent tolerability, suggests thatMeriva is worth considering for the long-term complementary management of osteoarthritis."
A comparitive evaluation that tested Meriva against tonimesulide, and acetaminophen published in 2013 stated, "Meriva showed clear analgesic activity ... results show that the preclinical analgesic properties of curcumin have clinical relevance."
A three-month study published in 2010 on inflammation in 50 patients with osteoarthritis concluded Meriva, "is clinically effective in the management and treatment of osteoarthritis and suggest that the increased stability and better absorption of curcumin induced by complexation with phospholipids have clinical relevance, setting the stage for larger and more prolonged studies."
However, no good story is without a twist. A study published in 2011 compared the absorption of a standardized curcuminoid mixture and Meriva in a randomized, double-blind, crossover human study. It concluded: "Total curcuminoid absorption was about 29-fold higher for Meriva than for its corresponding unformulated curcuminoid mixture ... [but] remarkably, phospholipid formulation increased the absorption of demethoxylated curcuminoids much more than that of curcumin." See chart below.
So after taking Meriva, the major compontent that was absorbed was not curcumin, but demethoxycurcumin (remember that from nine paragraphs ago?).
Demothoxycrucumin is "a more potent analogue in many in vitro anti-inflammatory assays," leading the study to conclude that this, "might underlie the clinical efficacy of Meriva at doses significantly lower than unformulated curcuminoid mixtures.
I found a growing body of research that suggests turmeric, and its active ingredient, curcuminoids, could be effective treatment for inflammation. Given the very low risk and very limited side effects, it would seem worth a try for individuals seeking a complementary and/or natural remedy for pain relief.
However, one of the big hitches is dosing. If you're taking off-the-shelf turmeric, the amount of pills you'd need to pop on a daily basis could get rather outrageous considering the most well-studied compound, curcumin, makes up a measly 3-5% of the spicy yellow powder. Two of the Meriva studies sourced used a daily intake of 200mg and 400mg of curcumin, respectively. To get that same clinical dosage of curcumin via ingesting turmeric, it'd take upwards of 4,000+mg per day. Whoa, that's a lot of pills.
Based on the research above, it sounds like curcumin has potential as a complement to massage therapy in reducing muscle tension/pain/inflammation. Yet many of the studies include a disclaimer that more advanced research needs to be done to accurately recommend/determine an effective dose. And then there's that absorption study that sited demethoxycurcumin, not curcumin, might actually be the cause of Meriva's clinical efficacy. Where can you buy Meriva? You can check your local health food store or purchase on Amazon.