A certain spice a day keeps inflammation at bay

A certain spice a day keeps inflammation at bay

Spicing up your food may be just what the dietitian ordered. Adding the spice, turmeric, to cooking may be a way to lessen inflammatory conditions, according to a study conducted by researchers from The University of Nottingham and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.

The European researchers determined that curcumin, an essential ingredient in turmeric, can help suppress the biological mechanisms that lead to inflammation in tendons, the fibrous structures that connect muscles to bones. One such form of inflammation, tendinitis, commonly affects elbows, heels, shoulders and wrists, and causes pain and tenderness that is often worse at night or with movement.

Curcumin provides turmeric with its well-recognized yellow color. The spice is best known for use in curry, a food, dish or sauce in South Asian cuisine. Curry contains a mixture of seasonings.

Janel Hayden, dietitian at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., agrees that turmeric can be a healthy addition to a variety of recipes. However, she dispels the perception that turmeric is limited to use solely as a Thai and Indian food spice and, instead, recommends adding it to many different foods.

“People often think turmeric is only for curry. That is not the case. The spice can be added to eggs or mixed with olive oil and put on top of vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and onion,” Hayden explains. “In fact, turmeric can be added to soups, casseroles and salads.”

She describes the taste of turmeric as warm and bitter. “It is not sweet; it gives food a little kick and flavor,” she says. “And, the great thing about the spice is that it is very inexpensive.”

The researchers involved in the study used a human tendon culture to analyze the way in which curcumin affects interleukins, or cytokines, small cell-signaling protein molecules that activate inflammation genes. The results showed that introducing curcumin inhibits activation of the “switch” that triggers inflammation, thereby, preventing further swelling.

Currently, the treatment for tendinitis includes rest, steroid injections and use of non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), which are frequently linked to long-term side effects, such as stomach ulcers and kidney failure.

While the researchers do not believe curry, turmeric or curcumin are cures for inflammatory conditions, they are confident the spices offer a new lead in the treatment of such disorders through nutrition—a concept that Hayden strongly supports.

She recommends adding turmeric to food as opposed to taking the spice in pill form. “Leave that sort of prescribing up to a doctor because the turmeric pill can have negative interactions with other medication,” Hayden says. “Cooking with the spice is much healthier and safer.”

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  1. Sarah Fitzpatrick July 21, 2014 at 10:22 am · Reply

    My rheumatologist suggested this to me about 3 months ago and I thought he was crazy but it actually does work and reduce my symptoms of inflammation!

  2. What does the FDA say about this???

  3. Turmeric is also found in bright yellow American-style mustard, among other things. It isn’t the only anti-inflammatory food, either. Fish oil from cold-water fish that is rich in omega-3s is also an anti-inflammatory, as are sour cherries — the Montmorency and North Star types that are used in pie fillings and whose juice is bottled as a popular beverage. (Sweet cherries? Not so much.) You can take advantage of those foods by taking omega-3 fish oil capsules, eating salmon or mackerel, or drinking Montmorency cherry juice twice a day. My aunt has had migratory arthritis since her 20s, and she swears by cherry juice and fish oil capsules to keep her going — and her rheumatologist agrees.

    There are other anti-inflammatory foods and beverages you can eat as well: walnuts, flax seeds, kelp (NOT heavily-salt-laden kelp snacks, though), green tea, ginger, shiitake mushrooms, extra-virgin olive oil, sweet potatoes, broccoli (and broccoli rabe or rapini), and papaya. Though if you’re taking blood thinners, you might want to watch how much broccoli and papaya you eat, because those foods can lwer the effect of your blood thinner.

    The thing is, inflammation is a problem for more than just those who suffer from the many arthritic and rheumatic conditions that exist. Inflammation, as we now know from medical research, can trigger a host of other unfortunate processes in the body, including inflammation of the heart and blood vessels that triggers plaque accumulation in the circulatory system and consequent heart disease. So maybe having a glass or two of cherry juice a day, walnuts in your daily oatmeal, and some grilled salmon with dill-mustard sauce a few times a week or curried chicken salad with walnuts and fresh berries is a good idea.

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.