Turmeric (a plant often used as a spice that can be found in any grocery store) is likely the most common herbal supplement I recommend to my patients. Non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen, advil, motrin, aleve, aspirin) are some of the most commonly used drugs, both by physicians and over the counter. However, their serious side effects are well known and feared by physicians. They are one of the leading causes of stomach and intestinal ulcers and can cause kidney failure. They are usually safe is short courses but for people with chronic pain it becomes a real problem.
Turmeric however has been used in traditional Indian (Ayurvedic) and Chinese medicine for hundreds (possibly thousands) of years for its pain relieving and anti-inflammatory qualities. A study was done in 2011 in the journal Inflammation that looked at the anti-inflammatory capability of turmeric vs ginger vs indomethacin (a strong non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drug) in treating arthritis in rats. Turmeric actually did BETTER than both of them. And by quite a bit. Its anti-inflammatory capability was 10% better.
And ironically turmeric not only does NOT cause stomach ulcers but actually has been shown to suppress H pylori (a bacteria well know to cause stomach ulcer) and even decrease the risk for stomach and colon cancer in animal studies.
The anti-inflammatory compound that seems to be doing the work in Turmeric is called curcumin. Unlike many herbal supplements LOTS of data already exists on the effects of turmeric, how, and where it acts in the body. Given that it has been used for centuries by traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine doctors a safety record has already been well established. In fact the longest known living population on earth in Okinawa, Japan eats tons of Turmeric traditionally and drink tea made from it. Okinawa has an average life expectancy of 81.2 years as compared to 76.8 in the United States. Also Okinawa has the lowest rates of heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
So we have plant that is cheap, can treat arthritis or any other inflammatory condition, and its main “side effects” would actually be a decreased risk for cancer, heart attack and stroke and increased life expectancy. Oh yeah, and some studies show it may decrease the risk for Alzheimer’s dementia as well.
Despite this impressive record very few physicians know any of this. This needs to be studied and sanctioned as an acceptable treatment now.