Fire in the Belly: Turmeric May Relieve Intestinal Inflammation
The common kitchen spice turmeric may hold the key to turning off inflammation in the gut, reports Digestive Diseases and Sciences (2005;50:2191–3).
Turmeric has a centuries-long history of use in traditional Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medical systems. In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is used to treat many conditions, including poor vision, rheumatic pains, and coughs, and to increase milk production. Native peoples of the Pacific used turmeric for numerous problems ranging from constipation to skin diseases. Folk medicine has identified a value for turmeric in relieving flatulence, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, bleeding problems, and colic. Controlled clinical trials of turmeric for most of these uses have not been done, but researchers have been gathering evidence on the anti-inflammatory, anticancer, liver-protective, and antioxidant properties of turmeric for years, first from test tube and animal studies, and now in a preliminary clinical trial in humans with inflammatory bowel conditions.
In the new study, subjects used a turmeric preparation to reduce the inflammation and symptoms of ulcerative proctitis and Crohn’s disease, inflammatory conditions of the large and small intestines. The bowel symptoms of ulcerative proctitis and Crohn’s disease can be quite distressing: ulcerative proctitis may involve diarrhea, rectal pain and bleeding, and a persistent urge to empty the bowel known as “tenesmus.” There may be blood or mucus in the stools as well. In Crohn’s disease, the most common symptoms are abdominal pain, typically in the right lower quadrant, and diarrhea. Rectal bleeding and fever may also occur.
The main active compound in turmeric is a yellow pigment called curcumin. In the new study, a standardized (99.5%) curcumin preparation was administered to five people with ulcerative proctitis and to five with Crohn’s disease. Three women and two men with ulcerative proctitis were given 550 mg of curcumin twice a day for a month, and then three times a day for another month. All five had significant improvements in symptoms, most notably in the number and quality of stools. Two subjects eliminated their medications and two more reduced their medications while taking the curcumin. Another five subjects with Crohn’s disease followed a slightly different regimen: they took 360 mg of curcumin three times a day for one month, and then the same amount four times a day for another two months. Four of the five had improvements in their symptom scores (in other words, quality and frequency of stools, abdominal pain, and cramping).
The results of this pilot study warrant a double-blind placebo-controlled follow-up.
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December 15, 2005
Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.
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