More than 1.6 million Americans suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, a persistent and lifelong disease that affects the digestive tract. With these numbers, the need to treat the condition using safe and effective methods is evident. Unfortunately, conventional treatments for this disease are known to cause adverse side effects. Because of this, more people use medicinal plants and food derivatives as alternative remedies. Researchers from the United Arab Emirates University determined that turmeric (Curcuma longa), widely used for its pharmacological activities, has potential use in treating inflammatory bowel disease.
Inflammatory bowel disease can be classified as either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, which both involve chronic inflammation of the digestive tract due to the production of free radicals and the pro-inflammatory chemical interleukin-23 (IL-23). In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of patients suffering from these conditions, as well as the number of cases needing hospitalization. When left untreated, inflammatory bowel disease can increase the risk for blood clots, arthritis, and cancer. Many people turn to conventional medications to prevent these complications. However, the drugs themselves are associated with many health risks, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and cancer. Fortunately, there are many natural products that have potential use in the treatment of this disease.
A possible alternative remedy for inflammatory bowel disease was found in turmeric. Many people can easily recognize this spice in their kitchens because of its characteristic yellow color, which can be attributed to the presence of the bioactive compound curcumin. Although turmeric is most commonly used for culinary purposes, it can also be utilized for various medicinal applications because of curcumin. One of the biological activities associated with this phytochemical is the ability to reduce inflammation by interfering with the nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (Nf-kappa B) pathway, which is involved in the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals involved in inflammatory bowel disease.
In the study, published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the researchers evaluated the in vivo effects of turmeric on inflammatory bowel disease. This was determined using male Wistar rats that were induced to have the disease through intra-rectal administration of acetic acid. Turmeric treatments were administered either three days before or seven days after the inflammatory bowel disease was induced. The parameters they considered for the study included body weight, colon histology, as well as the levels of antioxidants and substances associated with inflammation, namely IL-23 and myeloperoxidase.
The researchers observed that rats in the control setup experienced a significant decrease in body weight and an increased occurrence of ulcers in the colon. In rats that were given turmeric, these effects were effectively reversed. Furthermore, treated rats also exhibited higher antioxidant activity and lower levels of pro-inflammatory substances compared to rats in the control setup.
From these results, the researchers concluded that turmeric protects against inflammatory bowel disease through its anti-inflammatory activity. This superfood can, therefore, be used as a safe and effective alternative to harmful conventional drugs.
Other health benefits of turmeric
There are many different health benefits associated with turmeric, which is why it is one of the most commonly used superfoods. Advantages linked to turmeric include the following:
- Pain relief — Previous studies have shown that the efficacy of turmeric in relieving knee pain associated with arthritis is similar to that of ibuprofen.
- Improved digestion — The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of turmeric promote good digestion by reducing inflammation and improving gut permeability.
- Reduced cancer risk — Curcumin in turmeric has shown great protective potential against pancreatic and prostate cancer.