There is no doubt about it, inflammation can be a pain. But surprisingly, sometimes it is not a pain at all, hiding away in our body, silent but damaging. Regardless, unchecked inflammation is a force with lethal potential.
There are two types of inflammation. Acute inflammation is a quickly resolved, normal reaction to disease or trauma. When you sprain your ankle or catch a cold, acute inflammation is almost immediate and is part of the healing process. In this instance, inflammation is a good and healthy response. However, chronic inflammation is an ongoing, non-resolving, destructive cycle that consumes energy, creates tissue damage, and is a major factor in almost every chronic disease.
Chronic inflammation is the leading cause of disabling pain in the United States, and is implicated in every top 30 cause of death with the exception of accidental, drug/alcohol, and suicide/homicide. For example, atherosclerosis begins with inflammation on the inside of the arteries as the first step in developing calcium deposits and plaque. In Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, as well as depression, researchers have consistently found higher than normal levels of inflammation in the brain. Chronic inflammation causes free radical damage in our DNA with two unpleasant outcomes: accelerated aging, and greatly increased cancer risk and cell mutations. Yet none of these diseases initially present with pain.
Arthritis, both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, do present with pain— sometimes a great deal of it. Not only is the inflammation causing pain, it is also causing damage to the cartilage and to the bone. Pain destroys energy, mobility, self-sufficiency and quality of life.
We could spend the rest of this article discussing a myriad of diseases and how unchecked chronic inflammation causes enormous damage, pain, and suffering. But there is another potentially lethal issue that compounds this problem, and that is the way many people deal with inflammation, with the use and overuse of anti-inflammatory drugs. The class of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is one of the best-selling categories of both prescription and over-thecounter medications. Drugs in this class include celecoxib, ibuprofen, dicolfenac sodium and naproxen sodium. Combined, these drugs are responsible for more than 30,000 deaths a year, most of which are from proper use.
People are desperate for relief from chronic inflammation. As experts in natural products, it is our responsibility to increase awareness of healthier ways to reduce inflammation and pain. There are clinically proven, powerful natural interventions to fight back against this destructive force. The botanical medicine with which I am most impressed is advanced absorption curcumin, and its growth and sales trajectory in the health food industry confirms its place as a superstar.
Inflammation is not a simple response. It has many complex and interacting factors. I describe inflammation to patients as a river: You want some water in the river to water your crops and slake your thirst, but if the river floods, it destroys farmland, homes and can even cause drowning. Many streams and tributaries feed the river, and their activity raises and lowers the water level.
In my opinion, curcumin, an extract of the herb turmeric, is the most powerful herbal anti-inflammatory compound thus far discovered. It touches every single inflammatory pathway—every stream and tributary—which results in reigning in the flood to safer levels. Curcumin is not easily absorbed, so the next generation of these products have varying methods of enhancing absorption. Enhancing absorption is superior to either plain curcumin or turmeric, because more medicinal compounds can be delivered in a reasonable amount of capsules.
For example, in a human rheumatoid arthritis (RA) trial, two 500 mg capsules of BCM-95 Curcumin (an enhanced absorption curcumin utilizing turmeric essential oils) were compared to two capsules daily of a prescription arthritis drug called diclofenac sodium. The researchers found that the enhanced absorption curcumin worked as well as the drug in reducing disease activity in RA. None of the individuals randomized to the curcumin group dropped out, but 14 percent of the drug group had to leave the study due to adverse effects.
In another study, 2,000 mg of an enhanced absorption curcumin called curcumin phytosome (curcumin complexed with soy lecithin and cellulose) was compared to 1,000 mg of acetaminophen (one brand name is Tylenol) for pain relief. The researchers found that the curcumin phytosome “showed comparable analgesic (pain relieving) activity as this standard dose of acetaminophen.”
As for curcumin’s ability to ameliorate depression, a recent human study of BCM-95 Curcumin compared 500 mg twice daily to the prescription drug fluoxetine (one brand name is Prozac) in helping patients with major depressive disorder. Once again, researchers found that curcumin was equally effective to the antidepressant drug in improving symptoms, again without any serious adverse effects.
One of the most serious diseases linked to chronic inflammation is cancer, and this is an area where the scientific investigation of curcumin is exploding. In addition to helping prevent cancer by reducing chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, curcumin is also beneficial after cancer has developed. Just this year, a study was published on how cancer cells respond to the lethal effects of a certain chemotherapy called 5-fluorouricil (5-FU). The researchers found that curcumin protected the healthy cells, but actually made the cancer cells more vulnerable to the chemotherapy. Curcumin also destroyed cancer stem cells, which are linked to cancer recurrence after treatment. In about 20 percent of cancers, the cancer cells become resistant to the effects of chemotherapy. In this study, curcumin was shown to reverse chemo resistance. These are preliminary cellular studies, but this shows tremendous promise for developing much less toxic, and more effective, cancer treatments in the future.
I once heard Dr. James Duke, author of The Green Pharmacy and one of the most respected authorities on botanicals in the world, speak at an annual meeting of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, where he stated that if he was stranded on an island and could only take one plant medicine with him, it would be curcumin. He also stated that if he had cancer, and could only use one plant-based medicine, again, it would be curcumin. Based on the research and books I have read, the symposia I have attended, and the experts I have had the privilege to interview, I would have to say that I completely agree with Dr. Duke.
1 U. S. National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR), Deaths: Final Data for 2005, Vol. 56, No. 10, April 24, 2008.
2 Chandran B, Goel A. A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytother Res. 2012 Nov;26(11):1719-25
3 Di Pierro F, Rapacioli G, Di Maio EA, et al. Comparative evaluation of the pain-relieving properties of a lecithinized formulation of curcumin (Meriva(®), nimesulide, and acetaminophen. J Pain Res. 2013;6:201-5. Doi: 10.2147/JPR.S42184. Epub 2013 Mar 8.
4 Sanmukhani J, et al. Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Phytother Res. July 6, 2013.
5 Antony B, Kizhakedath R, Benny M, Kuruvilla BT. Clinical Evaluation of a herbal product (Rhulief™) in the management of knee osteoarthritis. Abstract 316. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2011;19(S1):S145-S146.]
6 Shakibaei M, Buhrmann C, Kraehe P, Shayan P, Lueders C and Goel A. Curcumin chemosensitizes 5- Fluorouracil resistant MMR-deficient human colon cancer cells in high density cultures. PloS ONE. 2014:9(1)
7 American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) annual conference, Aug. 19-22nd 2009. Tacoma, Washington. Keynote speech. James Duke, PhD.
8 Cheryl Myers is an integrative health practitioner, author, and an expert on natural medicine. Additionally, she has a degree in psychology and worked for several years in psychiatric care. She is a nationally recognized speaker who has been interviewed by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Prevention Magazine. Myers is the head of Scientific Affairs and Education for EuroPharma, Inc. (www.europharmausa.com).
Cheryl Myers is an integrative health nurse, author, and an expert on natural medicine. She is a nationally recognized speaker who has been interviewed by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Prevention Magazine. Her many articles have been published in such diverse journals as Aesthetic Surgery Journal and Nutrition in Complementary Care, and her research on botanicals has been presented at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the North American Menopause Society. Myers is the head of Scientific Affairs and Education for EuroPharma, Inc. www.europharmausa.com