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Kolasa: Using turmeric for inflammation


Kathy Kolasa

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q I have had tendonitis or bursitis of the hip for several months. I have heard of turmeric for inflammation — is it safe? — M.C., Greenville

A There are many diets, foods, beverages and dietary supplements that can provide an anti-inflammatory effect. Rachel Wilson, a third-year Brody medical student, was interested in your question, and here is what she learned.

Tendonitis and bursitis can be caused by injury, repetitive motions like running, biking or standing for long periods of time, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), previous surgery and many other conditions. The inflammation occurs where the tendon and bone meet or at the fluid-filled sac between bone and soft tissue, for tendonitis and bursitis respectively, and can be quite painful.

Traditionally, managing this type of pain involves taking an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen; using ice; resting the inflamed part; stretching; physical therapy to improve body mechanics (tendonitis and bursitis can be exacerbated by improper body mechanics); and/or steroid injections.

Inflammation itself is a process whereby your body releases chemical substances when exposed to harmful stimuli. There are many compounds, both synthetic and herbal, that appear to decrease this response. Considered one of the first anti-inflammatory agents and used by North Americans in 200 B.C., salicylate is found in the willow bark of the Salix alba plant and is in the same family as the active ingredient in aspirin.

Curcumin is the major component of turmeric that provides an anti-inflammatory effect. It’s an interesting herbal because it also has antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antidiabetic, antifertility and antitumor properties. In an animal study, curcumin was found to give the same anti-inflammatory response as cortisone for acute inflammation.

Taking curcumin may be beneficial for those with osteoarthritis, RA, fibromyalgia and ulcerative colitis. But a person with gallstones, stomach ulcers or bile duct obstruction should not use curcumin. The most common suggested dosages are 10-30 drops of turmeric extract three times a day; 1.5-3 grams of turmeric powder every day; or 4.5-9 grams of turmeric root made into a tea every day.

There are standardized curcumin capsules that have 400-600 milligrams you take three times a day. There are also liquid products, and you would use 30-90 drops per day.

As Dr. Kolasa mentioned, there is a multitude of other products that have anti-inflammatory effects. Ginger is often used for digestive disturbances, but at higher doses — 510 milligrams of ginger extract in a day — there may be an anti-inflammatory effect. Capsicum frutescens, also known as cayenne pepper, in a gel form and applied to the affected area three to four times a day may relieve the pain from osteoarthritis, RA or back pain.

A plant called ‘Devil’s claw’ is used for osteoarthritis, RA, tendonitis, gout and back pain as well. It is prepared by boiling 1.5 to 3 grams of root in water (to taste) and drinking it three times a day. Boswellic acids from the boswellia serrata, a tree found in India, has been used for bursitis, tendonitis and arthritis. The capsules typically have 37.5-65 percent active ingredient, and you take it three times a day.

Although I have summarized what I have found, I would caution you before heading to the drugstore to pick-up your “all natural” remedy that it could cause more harm than good. Herbal “supplements” that can be purchased over the counter are not nearly as regulated as medications prescribed by your doctor. There is no product standardization, so you need to read labels carefully.

There is the possibility of inappropriate labeling and product contamination. There also is wide variation in biological makeup and potency among crops at different times and locations. Because of these factors it is difficult to determine the safety of an herbal product with certainty. Still, some people find pain relief and fewer side effects using these natural products, particularly through integrative pain therapy, which combines traditional and nontraditional approaches.

Please do yourself a favor and discuss with your doctor your interest in taking an herbal medicine before you start. If you experience any side effects, stop immediately. Remember, using food or herbal medicines for anti-inflammatory effects requires that you use them every day, not just once in awhile.


Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an Affiliate Professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at kolasaka@ecu.edu.