Curcumin, the “Indian Solid Gold” is one of the most cherished spices in the world. Health is something we all take for granted, but did you know that Curcumin taken daily can bring about dramatic health changes for the positive? Whether if you suffer from chronic joint pain, lower back pain or overall stiffness, benefits can be seen. In horses, we battle with joint deterioration, back complaints and overall unsoundness, chasing these conditions with expensive remedies combating something that could be better managed from another standpoint. Even in horses, dramatic changes can be evident, often creating confusion as to how something so simple can have such far reaching effects. Pets are no different, suffering from the same clinical maladies that affect humans. They too can benefit immensely, restoring healthy, vitality and a quest for life. So, why is this herb so wonderful?
Curcumin is one of the most heavily researched herbs, evaluating health benefits in humans for the past several decades. The herb has been used in the form of Turmeric in Indian or Ayurvedic medical cultures for centuries demonstrating benefits from wound healing, to gastrointestinal problems, skin conditions, joint maladies and even cardiovascular health. For the past 7 years, we have researched and utilized Curcumin in our veterinary patients with 3 published clinical studies confirming what has been known for many years and that is improvement in clinical health. The benefits are real and seen on a daily basis with continued usage.
Curcumin is actually the most active component of Turmeric, which is a flowering plant found in the Middle East, primarily India. The root of the plant contains many curcuminoids which have demonstrated medicinal benefits, but on average, Turmeric contains 2% curcumin by volume. The herb is bright yellow and a part of the Indian diet in foods such as curry. The herb is not only used in cooking, but also heavily used in the dye and cosmetic industry due to its potent yellow pigmentation. It easily stains everything it comes in contact with, but the bright orange-yellow color is a demonstration of its medicinal benefits and power.
Research regarding Curcumin and health benefits has exploded over the years making connections between daily usage and improvement in clinical conditions ranging from joint pain, cancer to cardiovascular health. Given the amount of positive findings, human consumption has increased. The problem is that supply and demand becomes a factor as farming conditions are the rate limiting step. Supply is somewhat limited due to plant growth, environment and soil conditions thus creating a supply issue between human consumption, the dye industry and cosmetics. A decreased supply and high demand leads to major price fluctuations and rising costs to the buyer, especially over the past 5 years. Curcumin costs have increased 500% in just the past 5 years, which creates issues for many and leads to potential product adulteration with fillers and synthetics. The concern is real and purity is essential when attempting to gain health benefits.
So what is the big deal behind Curcumin?
Curcumin has demonstrated the ability to modulate the inflammatory pathway in most species above and beyond any prescription medication or supplement on the market today. How, you ask? Well, inflammation is a complicated process but affects us all, our pets and our horses. Ongoing inflammation is what contributes to aging, cellular deterioration, joint deterioration, many clinical disease conditions and of course, pain. We are all familiar with the process of acute inflammation, which results when we stub our toe, get a splinter in our finger or even when our horse develops a hoof abscess. It is the redness, the swelling, pain, heat and loss of function that develops as a consequence of that injury. It is a good thing and helps us to heal and ward off bacteria. In most cases, once that condition is repaired and tissue regenerated, the process subsides and goes away. We need that acute inflammatory process, but it is the chronic inflammation that we should focus on and be concerned about.
Chronic or ongoing inflammation is a part of life, unfortunately, aggravated by many factors including genetics, diet, stress, lifestyle influences and even some medications. This chronic inflammation leads to the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines or cellular signalers that activate components of the immune system on weekly, daily and hourly basis. Many of these cellular signalers or cytokines impact cellular function, contribute to tissue deterioration, signal pain, cause disruption of blood circulation and alter the overall balance of health. The other component to ongoing inflammation is the rise in free radical generation, which then can also contribute negatively to cellular makeup, function and genetic mutations. These mutations not only impact cellular function, but can lead to irreversible alterations found in diseases such as cancer. It is chronic inflammation that is behind cardiovascular deterioration, progressive muscle disorders, neurological conditions, degenerating joints, weakening tendons and ligaments, gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, cataracts, skin wrinkles and overall aging. Chronic inflammation is also strongly linked with immune related disorders such as allergies, due to altered cellular function. It is a fact and it is real.
Those in the horse industry may be more familiar with some facets of ongoing inflammation due to new emerging treatments as well as old ones. The list of cellular signalers or cytokines produced is very long, but some that we may recognize include prostaglandins, COX enyzmes and interleukins. For instance, common pain medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories combat inflammation by reducing prostaglandin production by blocking the COX enzyme. It is more complicated than that, but in essence, they reduce prostaglandin production and thereby reduce pain. There are also newer treatments on the equine side such as IRAP therapy, which essentially blocks the receptor for an interleukin called IL-1. The thing is that chronic inflammation has a much broader scope than just prostaglandins, COX enzymes and IL-1. There are more cytokines being produced that are having an impact on health despite those treatments. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could possibly impact all of them or a good majority?
Curcumin does just that! A good majority of those cytokines are produced as a result of transcription factors contained within certain cells with the most prominent one called NF-kB. The ideal approach would be to somehow block or downregulate that transcription factor, which is exactly what Curcumin does based on research studies. Now, there are many herbs including green tea, ashwaghanda and others that impact this factor as well, but it appears that Curcumin may be one of the strongest. Research studies have demonstrated that Curcumin is able to reduce the production of not one or two pro-inflammatory signalers, but hundreds of inflammatory cytokines, growth factors and enzymes that impact health negatively. The key here is that in chronic inflammation, these cytokines and inflammatory mediators are over produced as a result of upregulation of NF-kB and other transcription factors.
What causes those transcription factors to be upregulated or always ‘on’, producing those potentially damaging proteins? Those factors would be genetics, influence of diet, stressors, environmental influences, lifestyle habits…the list goes on and on. They impact us negatively in most respects, so the question is what are you doing to protect yourself? It is not just in you, but this occurs in our pets and our horses on a daily basis as well, contributing to a host of medical conditions and impacting performance.
The beautiful thing is that nature has given us a potential solution and that is Curcumin!
As I have mentioned, research has been conducted for decades on Curcumin, inflammation and the restoration of cellular health. Diseases that have been evaluated include several forms of cancer, osteoarthritis, gastrointestinal disorders, neurological conditions and cardiovascular disease to mention a few. In most studies, positive changes were evident and cells were more resistant to degeneration and even patient models were less susceptible to cancer development. Curcumin has been shown to potentially slow joint deterioration, slow neurological diseases, improve cardiovascular function and blood flow and even aid patients in recovery from many illnesses including cancer. It is not a cure-all by any means, but it is a step in the right direction for everyone.
At Nouvelle Research, Inc., we have 3 published trials to date demonstrating the impact of Curcumin adminstration in horses with joint deterioration and metabolic like syndrome. Not only was there evident reduction in joint inflammatory proteins, but the patients improved rapidly without the further need for many prescription pain medications.
One of our consultants during the trials was an investigator in human research, Bharat Aggarwal, PhD. He is one of the most published authors on the subject and actually has a website devoted to Curcumin and the impact on health, which can be viewed at www.curcurminresearch.org. It is a valuable website and clearly demonstrates the potential impact of curcumin on health and disease.
Curcumin has demonstrated remarkable safety even in large doses in humans and is generally well tolerated. The one issue that has been raised in absorption and bioavailability, which can theoretically impact function. Many research studies have demonstrated very low levels of curcumin in the general circulation, while appearing to be the highest in the intestine, liver and spleen. Given this finding, individuals have raised the concern that diffuse health benefits are unlikely. Some efforts have been made to enhance absorption by adding in piperine, which does improve absorption, but it is transient and short lived. What we have found in our studies is that despite very low or often undetectable curcumin levels in the serum of horses, there is a dramatic impact at the joint level with reduction of inflammatory proteins. How can this occur if Curcumin was not detected in the serum or blood? My guess is as good as yours, but the end statement is that absorption may not be an issue overall, in my opinion. My personal thoughts are that either curcumin is being converted to another substance that is not being detected or more likely, it is achieving higher levels in those organs and then secondarily impacting the systemic inflammatory response through the immune system. We have to remember that the GI tract is the ‘home base’ for the immune response and that this immune response is primarily responsible for production of inflammatory proteins. The immune system communicates with itself, through signaling, no matter if that is in the GI tract or other parts of the body. If we alter the immune function in the GI tract, which tends to accumulate high levels of Curcumin, then we can secondarily impact the rest of the body.
Often, what we find is that the whole herb offers more than the individual components. In the case of Curcumin, Turmeric offers many other factors that could enhance absorption and bioavailability, which can come from its natural volatile oils. In our formulas, we utilize a patented curcumin extract called BCM-95®, which combines volatile oils from the plant root with the Curcumin in order to enhance absorption. Curcumin is fat soluble by nature, so administering with oils makes perfect sense. The BCM-95® appears to be the most effective of all the Curcumin extracts we have tested, providing high levels of Curcumin in a base that was designed by nature, maintaining higher levels that regular curcumin or black pepper basded formula for longer periods of time.
The Long and The Short of It All
The reality is that inflammation is closely tied to health, longevity and performance. It is not a theory, but a proven research finding. The question comes as to how you address and handle this information? As I mentioned, there are medications that help to manage inflammation, but they are often very narrow in focus and the result are potential side effects. Inflammation is a complex pathway, but reduction of those inflammatory mediators at the production level just makes sense. Curcumin has been proven effective and has minimal to no side effects due to its scope of action as well as the fact that it essentially restores those overactive proteins to a more normal level versus totally inhibiting them. Curcumin not only impacts inflammation, but is also a potent antioxidant, helping to protect our bodies against cellular damage from free radicals.
Despite the research proven power and potential of Curcumin, I believe, as a clinician and researcher, that it is not the ‘end all be all’ for every situation. There is tremendous potential, but often the patient’s health or lameness condition is exacerbated by other underlying health concerns, which respond even better when we also address those issues. There are many other herbs that provide anti-inflammatory benefits, but in addition, they may also help us to dry up discharges, mucous and phlegm or even impact the immune response on a higher level, or even provide nutrient support for cellular health.
We focus on Curcumin as our primary ingredient in our Cur-OST® formulas, but we take advantage of other anti-inflammatory herbs that may provide synergism, helping to enhance the effects on health for a variety of conditions. Nature has provided us many opportunities to enhance health, recovery and performance…why not take advantage of them all?
The time has come to restore health and manage it more effectively. We do have a choice when it comes to the health of ourselves, our pets and our horses. The question is what choice do you make? Do you follow traditional regimens which can be costly and come with side effects or do you take the more natural road based on research? The choice is yours. We hope you chose health!
All our best,
Tom Schell, D.V.M
Nouvelle Research, Inc. www.nouvelleresearch.com