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Safely Manage Joint Inflammation: Curcumin

August 2012

By Susan Evans

Safely Manage JOINT INFLAMMATION: Curcumin

The standard of care for the arthritic patient is prescription drugs with a long list of side effects.1-3 These drugs do nothing to stop the bone and joint destruction caused by osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.4,5 Beyond that, the patient must learn to live with their crippling pain and limited mobility.

Fortunately, help is readily available. A highly specialized complex of curcumin known as BCM-95® fights the joint-damaging effects of arthritis by attacking multiple inflammatory targets at once.

A team of internationally recognized scientists has published an impressive clinical trial of this superior-absorbing curcumin complex that most Life Extension® members have used for the past several years. The study subjects were rheumatoid arthritis patients who suffered from sky-high levels of inflammation that affected not only their joints but other vital tissues as well.5

In this 2012 study, curcumin beat out the standard arthritis drug diclofenac on most measures of effectiveness.5 Curcumin was free of any of the side effects that so often accompany drug therapy.

The study also showed this superior-absorbing curcumin directly attacked the source of the problem—inflammation— rather than simply masking pain and other symptoms.5

Applying Curcumin's Multitargeted Benefits To Arthritis

Applying Curcumin's Multitargeted Benefits To Arthritis

Curcumin is derived from the bright yellow Indian spice turmeric and has been used by traditional medicine for almost four thousand years.6 Curcumin is well-established in the medical literature as a powerful anti-inflammatory ingredient.5 Unlike pharmaceuticals, curcumin acts through multiple pathways and on numerous targets to limit the inflammatory response that underlies both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis (See table 1 at bottom of this page).6

Scientists now universally recognize that multi-targeted therapies like curcumin are vastly superior to the typical single-targeted mechanisms of conventional drug treatments.6,7 Curcumin is a potent antioxidant, and also boosts natural antioxidant systems inside your cells.8 Curcumin can also enhance other natural detoxifying machinery in your liver.8 By slowing naturally occurring cell death in joint tissue, curcumin can help preserve supple, youthful joints.9-12

But where curcumin really shines is in directly suppressing the inflammation that underlies not only rheumatoid arthritis, but also most of the chronic diseases of aging that afflict all of us sooner or later.13 One recent report showed that curcumin can reduce all of the inflammation-promoting molecular targets for which the FDA currently approves single-targeted (and often dangerous) pharmaceuticals.7

Curcumin's ability to safely quash inflammation in such a broad-spectrum manner makes it a compelling topic among anti-aging researchers. It is being studied for its potential benefits in a number of inflammation based diseases such as Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes.5,13 To explore curcumin's therapeutic potential for rheumatoid arthritis, one of the most inflammatory diseases known, a distinguished team of international researchers decided to examine the benefits of curcumin. Based in the US at Baylor University Medical Center and in India at the Nirmala Medical Centre, the team's members represent some of the most advanced thinkers in the field.

TABLE 1: Multiple Molecular Targets Blocked by Curcumin7,40
Molecular Target Inhibited by Curcumin Pathologic Effect
Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) Destroys joint cartilage and other tissues
Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) Promotes excessive blood vessel growth in inflamed joints and in cancers
Human Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF) Promotes growth and activity of cells involved in joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis32 and in many cancers
Estrogen Receptors Promote growth of many breast cancers; also decrease effectiveness of drugs used in rheumatoid arthritis33
Nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB) Potent inducer of the inflammatory cascade by activating the genes responsible for producing inflammatory compounds

Curcumin suppresses activity of at least 5 categories of molecular signals that promote inflammation and joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis, and are implicated in many cancers.

Curcumin's Effectiveness Against Rheumatoid Arthritis

The researchers enrolled 45 people with active rheumatoid arthritis during a flare-up of the disease.5 That strategy allowed the researchers to test curcumin's effects at the peak of the inflammatory response. Each of the 45 patients was randomly assigned to one of three study groups. Group 1 was the curcumin-only group. Each patient in this group received 500 mg/day of the superior-absorbing curcumin .5,14,15 Group 2 received the curcumin formulation in addition to 50 mg/day of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac sodium. Group 3 received only diclofenac. All patients took their assigned drug regimen for 8 weeks.

Throughout the study, the patients were evaluated using a standard rheumatoid arthritis disease activity score.5 In addition, blood tests were done at the beginning and the end of the treatment period, to determine the patients' overall degree of inflammatory responses. Patients also assessed their own pain levels on a 0-10 scale. Finally, the researchers tracked the number of patients who achieved improvements of 20%, 50%, or 70% in tenderness or swollen joints by the end of the study.

The results were compelling, and demonstrated the practical advantages of curcumin over the standard drug treatment.

Curcumin-treated patients hurt less. All patients in the study experienced significant improvements in their disease activity scores by the end of the study.5 Patients in the curcumin-only group showed improvement of 44.5%; improvement was 44.4% in the curcumin plus diclofenac group, and 42.1% in the diclofenac-only group. (Patients' self-measured pain scores showed a greater difference in favor of the curcumin-only group, which had a mean 60% reduction in pain scores; the curcumin-plus-diclofenac group's mean reduction was 56%; and that of the diclofenac-only group was 50%.)

Curcumin-treated patients' joints were less swollen and tender. The curcumin-only group had the largest number of patients experiencing 20%, 50%, or 70% reductions in overall joint swelling and tenderness (93%, 73%, and 33%, respectively).5 Curcumin-induced measurable changes on blood tests of inflammation. These impressive improvements in joint pain and swelling were matched by changes in blood markers of inflammation. For scientists, these improvements in the patients' blood markers of inflammation are exciting proof that curcumin is hitting its multiple targets and quelling the inflammatory process.

For example, the curcumin-only and curcumin-plus-diclofenac groups saw reductions of 11.2 and 13.3% in the erythrocyte sedimentation rate test, a measure of inflammation; the diclofenac-only group had just an 8.3% reduction. Still more dramatic results were seen on the more sensitive C-reactive-protein (CRP) measurement that is capable of detecting systemic inflammation; the curcumin-only group had a 52% reduction in CRP, the curcumin-plus-diclofenac group had a 26.9% CRP reduction, and the diclofenac-only group had a 1.5% increase in CRP.5 Curcumin-treated patients had no side effects. While patients in the groups receiving diclofenac experienced drug-related adverse events, those in the curcumin-only group had none at all.

In summary, this study was the first to demonstrate that curcumin is superior to a standard anti-inflammatory drug for use in rheumatoid arthritis. It also showed that adding the standard drug did little to enhance the effect of curcumin acting alone; indeed, on many of the study's measures, curcumin alone outperformed the drug/curcumin combination.5 Let's now look at the special characteristics of the curcumin formulation that was used in this study. Those characteristics not only explain this study's success, but they also open the door to similar improvements in other inflammatory diseases for which curcumin holds promise.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Control Joint Inflammation with Curcumin
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Control Joint Inflammation with Curcumin
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, a highly inflammatory condition, is the second most-common form of arthritis.
  • Standard treatments for rheumatoid arthritis do little to change the underlying inflammatory causes of the disease; instead, they simply mask the symptoms while joint destruction continues.
  • The more effective "biological agents" available today are not only costly but potentially dangerous in their wide array of side effects.
  • Curcumin, a natural spice-derived nutraceutical, has shown promise in reducing inflammation in a host of conditions, but its usefulness has been limited by its low bioavailability in humans.
  • A new form of curcumin, BCM-95®, has been developed with nearly 7 times the bioavailability of standard curcumin; it also remains at active levels in the blood for nearly twice as long.
  • A clinical trial of BCM-95® in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis demonstrated superiority on most measures to a standard anti-inflammatory drug.
  • Curcumin, and BCM-95® in particular, may hold hope for sufferers of osteoarthritis as well and may also be active in preventing other inflammatory conditions such as cancer and the consequences of obesity.