Turmeric: How it Fights Inflammation

By: Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist

Turmeric, aka the wonder spice, is all the rage!  You’ll find this exotic root in juices, tonics, topical skin creams, supplements, and of course good ‘ole fashioned spice infused meals.

Research on the benefits and uses of turmeric is mounting as well.  One of turmeric’s naturally occurring phytonutrients, curcumin, has long been touted for its cancer preventive and immune supportive properties. New research into curcumin’s anti-inflammatory nature is showing that it may also alleviate conditions like colitis.

Colitis is one condition within Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.  IBD is a broad term that includes conditions with chronic or recurring inflammation and immune response of the gastrointestinal tract.  With colitis, the inflammation affects the large intestine, or colon.  An estimated 1.6 million Americans suffer from IBD (Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease) and as many as 70,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.  Prevalence of IBD appears to be increasing.

Specific foods are not known to trigger colitis in everyone, but for some individuals, certain foods can aggravate symptoms.  Since inflammation is a hallmark of this condition, a pattern of healthy, plant-based, anti-inflammatory eating could certainly be helpful.

Curcumin has potent anti-inflammatory actions.  We are seeing how turmeric, used not only in cooking or juicing, but as a medical therapy with a specific dose in pill form, in combination with prescription medications, may synergistically work together to provide an even greater benefit than taking the standard medications alone.  This is the case with colitis.

Researchers found that the patients who received active curcumin vs. placebo in addition to their prescribed medication, 5-aminosalycilate (5ASA), had a significantly higher rate of clinical remission.   In fact, over 50% of patients taking turmeric achieved remission while NONE of the patients who were in the placebo group did. Patients took 3 grams of turmeric as a daily supplement pill in addition to their 5ASA.   

Adding black pepper to turmeric may increase the bioavailability, or your body’s ability to absorb the curcumin, but as much as 1000 times.  Some supplement pills contain black pepper. When using turmeric in foods or beverages, adding a pinch of black pepper is an easy way to help your body reap more of this spice’s healing potential.

There is a lot of discrepancy between turmeric supplement brands as well.  Some are contaminated with lead, some have less curcumin than stated on the label, and our supplement industry is lacking in regulation. So do your homework before purchasing a supplement.  Resources like Consumer Labs can be helpful.

Looking for some delicious, anti-inflammatory turmeric recipes…we’ve got them!

Try these for fun ideas! 

You can also wear turmeric! 

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Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist

Stacy is a Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition and an Integrative Nutritionist. She consults for various companies, focusing on health, wellness and innovative strategies to help increase individual’s fruit and vegetable intake. Stacy is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Health Fitness Specialist; she holds a BS degree in Dietetics from Indiana University, completed her dietetic internship at Massachusetts General Hospital, and earned a Masters in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a Senior Clinical Nutritionist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School teaching affiliates, in Boston, MA, with more than 20 years of experience. Stacy created and now serves as project manager and lead writer for nutrition services content on the Dana Farber website and the affiliated, nationally recognized nutrition app. Stacy is regularly featured on TV, radio, print and social media on behalf of Dana Farber and other organizations. Together with her husband, Dr. Russell Kennedy PsyD, they have a private practice, Wellness Guides, LLC. Stacy is an adjunct professor in Wellness and Health Coaching at William James College, currently teaching a graduate course in Health Coaching. Stacy is featured in the award winning documentary films, “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead” and “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2,” and serves on the Reboot with Joe Medical Advisory Board. Stacy lives in Wellesley with her husband, two sons and three dogs. She enjoys cooking, yoga, hiking and spending time with friends and family. Stacy is also one of the nutritionists who runs our Guided Reboot programs.

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