Inflammation in general terms can be said to be the response of the body’s immune system to harmful stimuli. These stimuli can be a pathogen entering the body, external injury to a tissue or effects of chemicals.
Inflammation is a protective response of an immune system which involves immune cells, blood vessels, and many molecular mediators.
The inflammatory response is classified as acute or chronic. The signs of an acute inflammation are swelling, pain, heat, redness and loss of function of the organ or tissues affected. It persists for a short duration.
The chronic inflammation manifests when the inflammation prolongs. This leads on to deleterious effects on the body as the toxins produced by immune response start harming the healthy tissues.
The general symptoms of this are fatigue, fever, chills, blood poisoning, sepsis, etc.
The chronic form of inflammation due to its long persistence becomes a cause of a number of deadly diseases. These diseases range from arthritis, hepatitis, diabetes to Alzheimer’s, AIDS and even many types of cancer.
As the inflammatory response is more or less an origin of many diseases, it is an obvious target for the therapeutic purposes. Thus, the treatment of these disorders often employs the non-inflammatory anti-steroidal drugs or NSAIDs.
The NSAIDs target the molecules such as enzymes involved in the pro-inflammatory signaling responses and thereby, alleviate the associated symptoms. The commonly used NSAIDs are aspirin, indomethacin, ibuprofen, diclofenac and much more.
Although these drugs are effective against inflammation, they have a major drawback regarding their side-effects.
These drugs pose many mild to serious side-effects that can be life-threatening, such as allergic reactions, headaches, kidney damage, stomach ulcers, bleeding, heartburn, etc.
The disadvantage of these drugs is driving the need to explore natural anti-inflammatory compound which can be as effective but without any major side-effects.
Ongoing researches have presented with several natural compounds with anti-inflammatory activities. Curcumin, a polyphenol from turmeric is one such natural compound with extraordinary anti-inflammatory activity.
What is Curcumin?
Diferuloylmethane or Curcumin is a phytochemical obtained from the plant Curcuma longa, i.e. turmeric. Curcumin is present in the rhizome of turmeric and gives it yellow-orange color.
It is the most biologically active component of turmeric responsible for its therapeutic benefits. The interaction of curcumin with various mediators of different molecular pathways of a cell endows it with a number of medicinal properties.
These properties include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune-modulatory, neuroprotective, anticancer, antimicrobial and much more. These activities of curcumin make it effective against a wide range of diseases.
How Does Curcumin Reduce Inflammation?
One of the most remarkable activities that curcumin possesses is that of anti-inflammatory.
The process of inflammation is initiated by the blood leukocytes (white blood cells/ immune cells), and various inflammatory mediators or pro-inflammatory molecules (cytokines, COX enzymes, prostaglandins, etc.) & transcription factors (NF-kappa B) are involved in the progression of the diseases.
Curcumin targets the above factors of the inflammatory pathways. It regulates the expression of the transcription factor (NF-kappa B), cytokines (TNF-α, interleukins) and enzymes (cycloxygenases/ COX, lipoxygenase) to exhibit its anti-inflammatory action.
The anti-inflammatory mechanism of curcumin is also attributed to its ability to activate peroxisome proliferator –activated receptor gamma (PPAR-γ). PPAR-γ is a transcription factor that inhibits the expression of inflammatory cytokines and thus, reduces inflammation.
Curcumin up-regulates the expression of PPAR-γ and thus results in decreased expression of inflammatory cytokines like TNF-α which in turn attenuates the inflammation.
The anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin has been found to be safe and efficacious in many clinical trials.
10 Inflammatory Disorders Curcumin Benefits
The extraordinary anti-inflammatory action of curcumin has attracted many types of research in various diseases. Controlling the inflammatory aspect of such diseases has a great therapeutic implication.
1. Curcumin reduces inflammation and heals Arthritis
Arthritis is one of the most common inflammatory diseases. The role of inflammation is central to the development of different types of arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
In both the arthritis types, there is deterioration of the bone and cartilage caused by the immune response (mediated by pro-inflammatory factors) in the synovial tissue (forms protective covering at the ends of joints and releases lubricant) of the joints.
This causes swelling, redness, pain and loss of function in the affected joints.
The potential of the anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin has invited extensive research for the treatment of arthritis and results exhibit great therapeutic benefits.
Curcumin inhibits the pro-inflammatory mediators like prostaglandin E2, nitric oxide, interleukins IL-6 &IL-8, COX-2, etc. This reduces the inflammation and protects bone cells from degradation in the osteoarthritis patients.
It has also been found to slow the progression of osteoarthritis by suppressing the pro-inflammatory factors like TNF-α, IL-1β and matrix metalloproteins (MMPs).
In the case of rheumatoid arthritis as well osteoarthritis curcumin follows the same line of action to reduce inflammation and joint damage. It prevents the activation of NF-kappa B which regulates the expressions of pro-inflammatory molecules like chemokines, cyclooxygenase-2, etc.
Moreover, curcumin is found to be safe and efficacious in most of the clinical studies on arthritis which makes it a valuable therapeutic option for the arthritis patients.
What does it mean?
It means curcumin is a highly beneficial compound against arthritis. Its anti-inflammatory action prevents the joint damage and slows the disease progression.
2. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effect benefits in Asthma
Asthma is an inflammatory disease which is characterized by difficulty in breathing. The difficulty is caused due to the inflammation of the airway which results in swelling, narrowness, and extra mucus production.
The inflammation in the airway is a result of an unusual chronic immune response upon a stimulus like an allergen.
The role of various pro-inflammatory mediators like prostaglandins, interleukins (IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, IL-13, IL-1β, etc.), TNF-α, etc. is important to the progression of the inflammation in the airway.
Curcumin has a great potential in the treatment of asthma. It has been found to remedy the airway inflammation by inhibiting the expression of pro-inflammatory molecules like TNF-α, IL-1β, and IL-6.
It also inhibits the expression of NF-kappa B (responsible of allergic hyper-response) which results in attenuation of inflammation in the airway caused by allergens.
Due to its anti-inflammatory action, studies have confirmed the efficacy of curcumin in the treatment of asthma.
What does it mean?
Curcumin can attenuate the inflammation in the airway of the asthma patients which can improve the asthmatic symptoms. It also results into reduced hyper-responsiveness of the airway to stimuli.
3. It can alleviate inflammation in AIDS
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome or AIDS is caused by the infection of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), where HIV damages the immune cells and leads to the occurrence of specific diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia, tumors, other viral infections, etc.
Inflammation has a central role in the development of HIV infection. It is marked with an intense release of inflammatory cytokines like TNF, IL-6, IL-10, IL-15, etc. The persistence of inflammation leads to various associated diseases.
The anti-inflammatory potential of curcumin has been found to be useful in the treatment of HIV-AIDS. Curcumin inhibits the inflammatory molecules involved in the development of the disease.
Curcumin also inhibits the replication of the HIV through its anti-inflammatory activity. It blocks the inflammation by evading the pro-inflammatory molecules like TNF-α, IL-6, IL-8, etc. These molecules are involved in various stages of infection and replication of the virus.
What does it mean?
Curcumin can be used to treat and prevent HIV-AIDS. The anti-inflammatory property of curcumin helps in blocking the replication of the virus as well as prevents the progression of associated diseases.
4. Curcumin mediates anti-cancer property by reducing inflammation
Cancer is one of the most chronic and deadly diseases associated with inflammation. The tumor progression is correlated with the sites of inflammation, and pro-inflammatory molecules are found to form an essential part of a tumor microenvironment.
Chronic inflammation in response to a number of factors like carcinogens, infections increases the risk of developing cancer.
Inflammatory factors promote the cancer development by inducing mutations, stimulating angiogenesis and other such cancer-causing molecular pathways.
Curcumin’s anti-cancer property is greatly associated with its anti-inflammatory activity. Targeting inflammatory signaling pathways like NF-kappa B can be effective against various types of cancer such as breast, pancreatic, colorectal, etc.
The down-regulation of various inflammatory mediators (COX-2, TNF, NF-kappa B, etc.) suppresses tumor initiation, progression as well as metastasis (spreading to other parts).
Curcumin is also a potent chemopreventive agent, i.e. it can prevent the occurrence of cancer. It blocks the inflammatory signaling pathways to achieve this action.
What does it mean?
It means curcumin’s action against inflammation is useful in the treatment and prevention of various types of cancer.
5. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory benefits heart health and reduces risk of cardiovascular diseases
Atherosclerosis (the process of thickening of arteries due to the accumulation of white blood cells and cholesterol & triglycerides) is the major reason behind the development of cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension, stroke, coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, etc.
The role of inflammation is primary to the process of atherosclerosis. The accumulation of white blood cells/ immune cells leads to the inflammatory responses that cause the progression of cardiovascular problems.
Curcumin has beneficial anti-inflammatory activity against the cardiovascular diseases. It inhibits NF-kappa B (involved in pro-inflammatory signaling) in turn decreasing the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and thus, has anti-atherogenic action.
What does it mean?
It means curcumin has anti-atherogenic potential by its anti-inflammatory action. This has therapeutic benefits in the cardiovascular diseases.
6. It controls inflammation in diabetes and reduces diabetes complications
Diabetes is the condition where blood glucose levels become too high or low due to the inability of the body to metabolize the sugar. Glucose metabolism is carried out by the hormone insulin.
Insulin resistance by the cells of the body is the main characteristic of diabetes influenced by inflammation.
The inflammatory biomarkers like cytokines are produced in the adipose tissue (fat storing tissue) which trigger insulin resistance and lead to the complications such as retinopathy, neuropathy, cardiovascular diseases, etc.
Targeting the inflammatory pathway can thus help in preventing or treating these complications.
Curcumin can target this inflammation in diabetics and can improve the associated complications.
Administration of curcumin in the diabetic model has been found to decrease the inflammatory molecules like IL-6, MCP-1, TNF-α etc. which were increased in the blood in response to the high glucose level.
Various clinical trials and studies have proven that the anti-inflammatory action of curcumin in people with diabetes ameliorates the insulin resistance and the complications associated with diabetes.
What does it mean?
Curcumin can treat and prevent the occurrence of insulin resistance and complications induced by inflammation in the diabetes patients.
7. It benefits in hepatitis or liver inflammation
Hepatitis is an inflammatory disease of the liver caused by viral infection, side-effects of drugs, autoimmune or metabolic drugs.
The most important implication of this inflammation is the progression of liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. This damage the liver and can lead to liver failure due to cell death induced by the inflammatory response.
Curcumin has a great potential against liver diseases. It has been found to inhibit the expression of the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNF-α in liver cirrhosis model which slows down the progression of the disease.
It is known to attenuate the liver injury by lowering the levels of inflammatory molecules like TNF-α, IL-6, etc. in a hepatitis model.
The inactivation of the proinflammatory NF-kappa B pathway by curcumin leads to the reduction of severity of steatohepatitis (hepatitis caused by excessive fat accumulation).
What does it mean?
Curcumin has anti-inflammatory activity against hepatitis. It can attenuate the injury to liver and help to prevent the complications of hepatitis and reduce the severity of the disease.
8. Curcumin is an effective add-on therapy in Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Inflammatory bowel disease or IBD is an inflammatory disorder of the digestive tract. It includes Ulcerative colitis (inflammation &ulcers in colon and rectum) and Crohn’s disease (inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract).
This disease involves the inflammation triggered by the immune response. The role of pro-inflammatory factors such as TNF-α and IFN-γ is central to the development of the disease.
The natural dietary supplements like curcumin have found to be effective in the treatment of IBD.
Curcumin’s inhibitory effects on the inflammatory mechanisms like COX-2, IFN-γ, TNF-α, NF-kappa B, etc. has proven to be very useful in the treatment of this disease.
It has also been found to be significantly effective against quiescent ulcerative colitis, and it prevents the relapse of the disease as well.
Inhibition of NF-kappa B by curcumin has shown to prevent and improve the inflammation of the intestine.
What does it mean?
It means the anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin can help in the treatment and prevention of the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
9. It protects from inflammation in Neurodegenerative diseases
The neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, etc. are marked by neuroinflammation, i.e. inflammation of the neurons.
The development of these diseases involves the inflammation triggered by immune response to a stimulus. The persistence of pro-inflammatory cytokines like TNF-α, IL-1β & IL-6 induces apoptosis in the nerve cells, damaging them.
Curcumin has several therapeutic benefits in the neurodegenerative diseases, one of them being the anti-inflammatory activity.
In the Alzheimer’s disease, curcumin inhibits the activation and production of the pro-inflammatory cytokines involved and thus prevents the damage to the neurons.
Its anti-inflammatory action is relevant to Parkinson’s disease (a mobility disorder caused by neurodegeneration) as well.
Epilepsy is another neurodegenerative disease that leads to seizures and cognitive dysfunctions caused by neuroinflammation.
Supplementation of curcumin was found to decrease the expression of pro-inflammatory molecules in the brain significantly and thus, ameliorates cognitive dysfunctions.
In multiple sclerosis, an inflammatory autoimmune disease of the central nervous system, curcumin prevents the damage to the nerve cells and exhibits neuroprotective effects of decreasing the severity of the disease.
What does it mean?
It means curcumin has therapeutic anti-inflammatory action on various neurodegenerative diseases. This action of curcumin prevents damage to the nerve cells and helps in reducing the severity of the diseases.
10. It reduces skin inflammation and heals Psoriasis
Psoriasis is a disorder caused by an auto-immune response and it manifests as red and itchy scaly patches on the skin, nails, and joints.
The inflammatory molecules play a key role in stimulating the immune response that is closely associated with the symptoms.
The pro-inflammatory molecules that are found to be high in this disease are TNF-α, IFN-α, IL-2, IL-6, IL-8, and IL-12.
Curcumin is known to be a beneficial anti-inflammatory compound in various skin disorders including psoriasis.
In studies on animal models, curcumin has shown its anti-inflammatory effect by decreasing the levels of inflammatory biomarkers (TNF-α, IFN, IL-2, IL-8, etc.).
Using curcumin-based gels has been found to reduce the symptoms of the psoriasis significantly.
What does it mean?
Curcumin is effective in the treatment of psoriasis. The anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin has a potential to decrease the inflammatory biomarkers and reduce the symptoms of the disease.
Dosage of Curcumin For Inflammation
The specifications for the dosage of curcumin are not prescribed for the inflammatory conditions.
However, most of the studies on the above-mentioned diseases utilize the dose ranging from 500 mg to 1500 mg per day. Depending on the disease, these doses have been efficacious against inflammation.
Also, according to the condition, curcumin may be used topically (gels or creams) or orally (in diet or the form of supplements).
Most curcumin supplements are standardized 95% Curcumin with Bioperine. The combination of curcumin with piperine and natural fats increases the absorption in the body (i.e. bioavailability). (Read How to improve the bioavailability of curcumin?)
Many formulations are being developed to enhance the bioavailability of curcumin. These include Meriva, Theracumin, gel formulations, etc.
There are varieties of other curcumin supplements that have better absorption in the body. (Read 8 Popular curcumin supplement types)
Initially, low doses of curcumin should be consumed. The dose should be increased gradually over weeks. Curcumin is better consumed after meals, and its intake should be after 3-4 hours of taking medication.
Safety of turmeric in the diet is renowned. Curcumin has also been established to be safe even in high doses in most of the studies.
A few precautions are necessary to take while using curcumin. (Read Side-effects & Precautions of Curcumin)
Curcumin may cause allergies in sensitive individuals. Please conduct a patch test before applying curcumin topically.
Curcumin may cause acid reflux in the prone individuals. Therefore, it should be consumed after a meal.
Large dose of curcumin can cause gastric discomfort like diarrhea, bloating, nausea etc. Therefore, it is advisable to start curcumin with low doses, and its intake should be avoided in case any severe gastric side-effects are observed.
Curcumin interferes in drug metabolism. Therefore, 3-4 hours gap must be maintained between taking curcumin and any medication. An expert’s opinion is best to take in this matter.
Curcumin may increase the risk of bleeding owing to its blood thinning activity. Therefore, people with bleeding disorders or on blood thinning medication should refrain from curcumin. (Read Is turmeric a blood thinner?)
Curcumin intake should be discontinued at least two weeks ahead of a surgery and after that as well.
Gallstone Patients should take curcumin supplements if advised by health practitioner.(Read Is turmeric safe in gallstones?)
Curcumin supplements must be devoid of contamination. Curcumin supplements can have contaminants such as heavy metals, harmful chemicals, fillers or additives. These contaminants may be a potent disease (such as cancer, ulcers, etc.) causing agents.
Curcumin supplements are excellent when combined with bioavailability boosters. Curcumin is poorly available to the body. Therefore, it is best to integrate curcumin with the agents like Bioperine which increase its absorption in the body.
A medical expert must be consulted before using curcumin supplements.
Curcumin is a brilliant natural anti-inflammatory agent.
Its anti-inflammatory activity has therapeutic benefits in a number of diseases involving inflammation in either their development or in the complications associated with this disease.
Curcumin targets various inflammatory pathways and decreases the expression of a number of pro-inflammatory factors. This activity has implications on the damages caused by the inflammation.
It is both efficacious and safe in the inflammatory diseases, exhibits protective action to the organs and reduces the severity of these diseases.