Turmeric and Chronic PainJune 11, 2023
Controlling Chronic Pain with Turmeric
Curcumin is an interesting spice. It is foundational to curry and the yellow in mustard. The spice has 3 components but it is only the bis-demethoxy-curcumin, missing two methyl groups, and comprising only 3% of the spice that is the active ingredient for inducing super-long chain GTAs, or gastrointestinal acids that protect against cancers. All three components have effects on inflammation.
The inflammation of chronic pain is tied up with many complex interplaying effects. Once the initial immune response happens, a flood of inflammation-inducing compounds has to be cleared. That occurs through lymphatic drainage and disorders of lymphatic drainage are beginning to be recognized. Curcumin works by affecting the initial controllers of inflammation. Much inflammation is set off of "pro-inflammatory cytokines that travel through the lymph system to the liver. In the liver, they induce the production of C-reactive protein which proceeds to activate Nf-kappaB all over the body. Curcumin blocks that conversion cold. Add that to 4-5 other participating effector steps and curcumin is quite a useful anti-inflammatory compound.
But stopping inflammation is only half the battle. Pain is a curious phenomenon. It is a warning that there is unaddressed inflammation, for one thing. It also is signaling tissue damage, abnormal friction, inadequate lubrication, pressure...on and on. To address chronic pain, you have to get to the pathways that are causing it, and those that are sustaining it and not letting it go.
That's where SPM's come in. SPM stands for Specialized Proresolving Mediators. As a general rule, they are made from EPA and DHA, the two main Omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish/krill oil. (Names like (18-HEPE), (17-HDHA), (14-HDHA) are enough to confuse the most patient reader). What's interesting about these "Resolvins" or SPMs, is that when combined together, they assist in the resolution of pain. These mediators are the first identified in human chronic pain, but every review article lists dozens more. This sort of interdependent complexity is where AI (artificial intelligence) may play a role as the interplay is way above our ability to understand or predict.
But one study of 29 individuals with mild to moderate pain, who were on no other meds, given turmeric and the above 3 mentioned SPMs had pretty reasonable resolution of their pain over the course of a month of supplementation. Were there any controls? No. Can any conclusion be made? No. Is this cause for rejoicing and celebration.....? Maybe, if replicated in a controlled study. Can we use this to sell supplements? YES! And that is how the supplement industry works. They are right some of the time, but not always. Frequently a tiny shred of accuracy exists, and the chronic pain sufferer will eagerly try it.
Another approach to chronic pain would also be to consider the endocannabinoid pathway. It is essentially the backbone of most of the controlling hormones coming out of our hypothalamus, the gearbox of your brain's endocrine response. Our discovery of the endocannabinoid system came through a very alternative route, the use of cannabis, first illegally and now, finally, with some legal review and serious scientific inquiry. It's no coincidence that there were 5 presentations at the annual meeting of Functional Medicine doctors on the current advances in endocannabinoid research. It remains a blunt instrument, but it helps resolve the pain pathways.
www.What will Work for me? I don't like THC. I've "tried it" and found I really don't like the spacey feeling. (1970, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Sophomore year). But I have now heard from enough users of legal THC gummies like Delta 9 that they get pain control. And I think all of us should be on turmeric for a variety of reasons. As a general rule, South Asians, who eat turmeric breakfast, lunch and dinner have 50-70% reductions in all cancers, Alzheimer's, and heart disease. All attributed to their turmeric consumption. They take it for the flavor. I have low back pain. I'm taking turmeric. I'm sitting in straighter chairs, doing situps and crunches and lunges. I may give the Life Extension Turmeric Elite product a whirl. I am amused by the irresistible urge to buy Life Extension products after reading their articles. They are very well crafted to nudge you to purchase.
1. Turmeric is a spice? T or F. Answer: True, eaten by billions.
2. Turmeric works on pain through what mechanism? Answer: It turns down NF-kappa B and multiple other inflammation mediators.
3. Your body has to clean up the inflammatory response, once it has been kicked into gear. How does it do that? Answer: Complex web of lymph system activities and many mediators based on Omega-3 derived compounds.
4. What are the chemical mediators of that clearing system? Answer: We are just learning their names. There appear to be dozens with complementary, overlapping and synergistic mechanisms. They are called resolving and SPMs.
5. Pain carries a nervous system component. What line of research is bearing fruit with that? Answer: The endocannabinoid system affects our mediators of pain. Stay tuned. More research to follow.