Here in the US around 52.5 million people suffer from arthritis (CDC). Rhematoid arthritis (RA) makes up around 1.3 million of these cases and is one of the most common forms (Arthritis Foundation). Characterized by chronic inflammation of the joints and joint tissues, the exact cause of this auto immune disease remains unclear. Many experts believe that some groups of individuals may be genetically predisposed to developing the condition, but that its onset may be triggered by the contraction of a pathogenic agent which has been suggested to be both viral or bacterial in origin (Dr.Mercola). Due to the idiopathic nature of this disease, current efforts to control the condition are aimed at treating the symptom of chronic inflammation that results in the joint pain, swelling, deformity, and immobility. In modern western medicine this is done through the use of steroids, such as prednisone, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), like Aspirin and Motrin IB (MayoClinic). However, because there are several potentially harmful side effects to regiments that include the regular usage of such drugs, doctors and individuals must weigh the pros and cons of such treatments on a case to case basis (Mayoclinic). Fortunately, however there are some dietary alternatives to modern methods of treatment that have been scientifically supported to be both safe and effective, one of which include the use of curcumin.
Curcumin, a phytochemical found only in turmeric, has been used in China and India as a medicinal herb to treat an assortment of ailments, for over 10,000 years (redfern). It belongs to a class of chemicals known curcuminoids, in which there are two types: desmethoxycurcumin and bis-desmethoxycurcumin. These two curcuminoids increase the bioavailability of curcumin by increasing its ability to be absorbed by the body (Redfern). Once absorbed, curcumin has powerful antioxidant effects that have been measured to be around 3 times more powerful than the antioxidant effects of pine tree bark extract and 8 times more powerful than that of vitamin E (Redfern). More importantly however, in terms of treating the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis, curcumin acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory by decreasing the effectiveness of enzymes cyclooxygenase-2 and 5-lipooxygenase (Redfern). These enzymes play key roles in the inflammatory response system of those who are afflicted with this condition.
For those with this condition, the layer of tissue that lines the joints, known as the synovium, begins to be attacked by the individual’s defective immune system (WebMD). This results in immune cells rushing to these tissues throughout the body and then manufacturing inflammatory chemicals that lead to irritation and wear down of the cartilage that helps to provide cushion between the bones (WebMD). This process of the erosion of cartilage is extremely painful and often debilitating. In some cases it can even result in bone rubbing on bone (WebMD). For this reason, early diagnosis is extremely important. The deformities of this condition can only be corrected, to a small extent, through surgery. Controlling the disease by treating the chronic inflammation that leads to debilitating deformities before they occur, is currently the best way to manage this condition and preserve a higher quality of life. The eastern spice turmeric, and its phytochemical curcumin, may be an alternative to the traditional western method of treatment.
A growing amount of evidence supports that curcumin may be a safer, cheaper, and more effective method of slowing the progression of the disease. In a recent study, published in 2012 in the journal of phytotherapy research, evidence showed not only that “…curcumin treatment was found to be safe and did not relate with any adverse events…,” but what is more significant is that those who were treated with curcumin alone and not in conjunction with diclofenac, showed the greatest improvements (Chandran et. al). The study consisted of forty-five participants randomly assigned to three groups. The groups received either 500mg of curcumin, or 50mg of diclofenac, or they received both. Diclofenac is a nonsteroidal anti-inflamatory drug that is commonly used to treat Rheumatoid arthritis (WebMD). However, this drug can have serious side effects including: increasing individual’s risk for heart attack or stroke, and it can cause bleeding in the stomach and intestines that arise without warning symptoms (WebMD). In this randomized pilot clinical trial, participants were assessed using two measures, the Disease Activity Score (DAS) and the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria for reduction in tenderness and swelling of joint scores. The group that received curcumin alone showed the greatest improvements in both measures and saw an improvement of 70% in their ACR score compared to a 20% improvement observed in the group that received only diclofenac (Chandran ). Curcumin shows great promise for researchers looking to develop safer and more effective treatment for those who suffer from Rheumatoid arthritis, however, more studies in this area needs to be conducted in order to understand the mechanisms of how curcumin affectively treats this disease. Although, it is easy to assume the positive impact curcumin has on the disease is a result of its anti-inflammatory properties, there may be other factors contributing to its effectiveness.
Curcumin also has potent antimicrobial properties (Redfern). This is significant if Rheumatoid Arthritis is in fact caused by a mycoplasm (a type of bacteria), as suggested by Dr. Albert Sabin, in 1939 (Dr. Mercola). Dr. Sabin, the same man who discovered the polio vaccine, also identified a mycoplams as an agent that induced chronic arthritis in mice and suggested the same agent may be responsible for rheumatoid arthritis in people (Dr. Mercola). As a result of Dr.Sabin’s findings in mice, Dr. Thomas McPherson Brown began to treat his Rheumatoid arthritic patients with the use of antibiotics, as if the disease was in fact bacterial in origin and experienced much success (Dr. Mercola). His treatment method was later backed with scientific evidence with a double-blind study known as the MIRA trial (Dr. Mercola).
The lives of those who have Rheumatoid Arthritis are dramatically impacted by this chronic and debilitating disease. Though its onset usually occurs during middle age this diagnosis has been made in young children as well (Arthritis Foundation). Because modern methods of treatment include the use of drugs like NSAIDS and prednisone, that when used for an extended period of time can result in serious side effects, it is important that studies in search of safer and more effective treatments continues to occur, so that children with this condition can hopefully one day go on to lead normal lives. Tumeric and its phytochemical curcumin, hold much promise in this area. For those who suffer, it is important that we, as a scientific community continue to explore what this amazing herb has to offer, both with its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties.
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