Turmeric is a lovely bright yellow spice commonly used in many Indian foods. But did you know that turmeric has also been used for over 3,000 years as medicine? And even today, herbalists often use turmeric to manage pain.
Turmeric has many medicinal compounds and qualities. The main active compound in turmeric is curcumin. Curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Curcumin can be a challenge for our bodies to absorb. However, combining turmeric with a small amount of black pepper makes the curcumin more bioavailable for our bodies to use.
Inflammation is said to be the root cause of disease and pain. When your body is inflamed, your immune system struggles to do its job in keeping you well. Inflammation also tends to cause most of the pain in the body.
Putting on my herbalist hat
About a month ago, I decided I needed to work on decreasing the inflammation in my body. My immune system seemed to be struggling, and I have had pain in my feet for over a year.
I kept getting sick. Every time someone near me came down with the sniffles, I got sick. And with this pandemic going on, I needed my immune system to be working as it should.
Every evening, after doing just the normal chores around the farm, my feet would throb. I was walking around like an old lady! And I had to take ibuprofen almost every night.
If you know me at all, you know that I don’t usually go to the doctor. But I actually went to the podiatrist for my feet. He told me it was basically plantar fasciitis, and put me on steroids for 10 days. It didn’t help at all.
So I decided to put on my herbalist hat and try using turmeric to manage pain and boost my immune system. I’ve known for a long time how good of an anti-inflammatory turmeric was, but I tried using it more like a pain pill. Turmeric doesn’t work that way. Turmeric works over time to reduce chronic inflammation in the body.
I bought a turmeric supplement and took it every day for 2 weeks. I started with just one 500 mg pill every day, then raised it to 2. The pain in my feet was gone! Miraculously, I didn’t need ibuprofen daily any more.
Traditional medicinal uses for turmeric
Turmeric has been used as medicine for over 3,000 years. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), turmeric is used to help circulate the blood, helping cardiovascular or menstrual conditions. It’s also used to treat stagnant blood in the case of tumors, cysts, and hardened clots.
In Ayurveda, turmeric is used to invigorate and move the blood, and is used for all blood and blood plasma disorders. It is believed to be a powerful cleanser of the blood and liver, and is a wonderful addition to herbal bitters. Turmeric is used to strengthen the energy of the body, relieve gas, dispel worms, correct digestion issues, regulating menstruation, dissolving gall stones, and relieving arthritis pain.
In Western herbal medicine, turmeric is used as an aromatic bitter and to support healthy liver function.
Turmeric has had many traditional medicinal uses, from reducing pain to boosting the immune system.
Turmeric reduces inflammatory pain
When taken on a regular basis, turmeric helps reduce pain from inflammation in the body. You can use it often in your food, but most people find it easier and more effective to take a supplement. Try to get one that has black pepper included, to increase the bioavailability of the curcumin.
Curcumin in turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It helps create a healthy inflammatory response in the body. Inflammation is our body’s way of healing. Inflammation also helps the body resist bacteria and viruses. However, too much inflammation results in pain and disease.
Turmeric restores gut health
Turmeric also seems to restore a healthy gut. A healthy gut makes a healthy person. People who have leaky gut or IBS typically have other diseases and complications that create pain. And poor gut health is related to autoimmune disorders.
Studies have shown that rheumatoid arthritis patients have seen significant improvement in their pain after taking a turmeric supplement for 4 weeks. While the curcumin isn’t very bioavailable, turmeric appears to positively affect the gut. This, in turn, produces a healthy inflammatory response.
According to Nutriinspector.com, “Turmeric facilitates the balance between your gut flora and the immune response. It achieves this by encouraging the glands on the surface of your colon to regenerate and heal for individuals suffering from IBS, leaky gut, or unbalanced bacterial colonies.”
Turmeric inhibits the enzyme COX-2
The enzyme COX-2 (Cyclooxygenase-2) is a natural enzyme in our bodies that is active at the site of inflammation. This enzyme produces a family of inflammatory messengers called prostaglandins. When chronic inflammation is in the body, this enzyme causes the inflamed areas to become painful and even more inflamed. Anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen help inhibit the activity of this enzyme.
Some compounds in turmeric, like curcumin, eugenol, and fisetin help inhibit the production of COX-2, rather than just inhibiting its activity. Thus, turmeric is more effective and has less side effects than pharmaceutical COX-2 inhibitors.
Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant
Antioxidants destroy free radicals that damage our cells. These free radicals can cause premature aging, as well as a lot of painful conditions. Antioxidants help to reduce cartilage loss and improve symptoms of joint pain, swelling, and inflammation. They can also slow the degenerative process that can take place in our joints as we age.
The underlying cause of arthritis is excessive free radical damage. Inflammation increases free radical damage, which results in more pain. Taking a good antioxidant on a regular basis can be key to breaking this vicious cycle.
Antioxidants are very beneficial for good overall health. Turmeric is one of the best sources of natural antioxidants.
Using turmeric to manage pain
There are a few ways to use turmeric to manage pain, but the key is consistency. You can use turmeric as a spice for your meals and still get the medicinal benefits. The typical Indian diet includes about 2,000-2,500 mg of turmeric per day. The World Health Organization has stated that 1.4 mg/pound of body weight is a safe daily dose.
Taking this much turmeric may prove a little difficult for those of us who don’t eat a typical Indian diet, so a supplement may be a great benefit. Just make sure it’s a good quality supplement that includes black pepper extract. Piperine, a compound in black pepper, can increase your body’s absorption of the curcumin by up to 2,000%.
You can also drink a turmeric tea. Each teaspoon of turmeric contains about 200 mg. For osteoarthritis pain, doctors typically recommend 500 mg of turmeric twice a day for 2-3 months. So you would need to consume 5 teaspoons of turmeric per day. If you’re making your own tea, add 1 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric (and a dash of black pepper) to 8 ounces of water twice a day.
Golden milk is another way to take turmeric, and it has the added benefit of helping promote restful sleep.
Turmeric is safe for almost everyone to take, but experts warn against taking it for long periods. There haven’t been enough studies to show the side effects of taking turmeric for a long time. After taking it for a few months for chronic pain, you should take a break for at least a couple of weeks. If you are experiencing pain during your breaks, you can take another anti-inflammatory like ginger.
Pregnant women can use turmeric in small amounts, but doctors advise against taking medicinal amounts during pregnancy.
For more information on using herbs to manage pain, check out my new e-book, Herbs for Pain Relief!
Do you take a natural anti-inflammatory?
Tell us – do you take a natural anti-inflammatory? What is your favorite? Please share in the comments so we can try it too!