Turmeric

ALLY DOES | Turmeric!

By Allison Perry | 6/10/16

rant_FeatIf you are one of those people who somehow manages to be active and fit and doesn’t have any nagging pain, aches or overuse injuries … read on, by all means, but I don’t believe you live here and I’m super jealous of you.

Most of us who enjoy the San Juan Mountains lifestyle have, at least at some point, grappled with aforementioned pain, aches and chronic injury.

My list: a blown ACL (surgically replaced), a blown MCL, torn meniscuses in both knees, Chondromalacia in one knee, Patellar Femoral Pain Syndrome in both knees, a perpetually stiff and sore lower back, a chronically swollen foot, and oft-tweaked neck and ankles.

Yay skiing! Yay mountain biking! Yay hiking and trail running and skate-skiing!

Can’t we find some relief without scalpels, needles, scopes and pills?

Before you get to thinking I’m special or something, most of the people I know have similar issues. And although the pain I/we deal with is manageable more often than not, it’s constant and bleeds into every aspect of the lives of people who suffer from any type of inflammation that falls into the vaunted category of “chronic.”

Sure it could be worse. But couldn’t it also be better? Can’t we find some relief without scalpels, needles, scopes and pills?

I used to take Advil for the pain until I started to read up on how bad it is for your organs to take any pain med on the regs. Add to the fact I drink quite a bit of beer (relatively speaking) and I came to an uneasy conclusion that I don’t need to tax my liver and kidneys any more than they already are.

As a good friend recently said on a particularly head-achy day, “I feel guilty taking Ibuprofen…not that that stops me.”

I had become pretty resigned to a happy yet not entirely comfortable existence until I came across an article about turmeric while, fittingly, strapped into two giant ice-packs after a tough day in the backcountry.

The article touted the spice’s “powerful anti-inflammatory effects” as well as its uses for liver detoxification, prevention of certain cancers, improved circulation and immortality (ok, I made that last one up).

They even make supplements!

Further research led me to an article in the Alternative Medicine Review entitled “Anti-inflammatory Properties of Curcumin, a Major Constituent of Curcuma longa: A Review of Preclinical and Clinical Research” by Julie Jurenka MT (ASCP).

TurmericAccording to the article, turmeric (the common name for Curcuma longa) is an Indian spice derived from the rhizomes of the plant and has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for inflammatory conditions. (Jurenka also cites its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, although she doesn’t focus on them.)

“Several animal studies have investigated the anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin,” she wrote, “Early work by Srimal et al demonstrated curcumin’s anti-inflammatory action in a mouse and rat model of carrageenan- induced paw edema [swelling]. In mice, curcumin inhibited edema…In rats, a lower dose…decreased paw edema and inflammation.”

Jurenka also cites studies in mice and rats that indicate curcumin had positive effects when used to treat symptoms of pancreatitis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, colitis, cancer and certain GI and ocular conditions.

According to the study, curcumin appears to be extremely safe, even at doses up to eight grams daily.

I couldn’t find anything negative about turmeric anywhere, so I dusted off the container of the yellow spice I used, at that time, only occasionally in cooking, and decided I would ingest turmeric in some form every single day, and see if at any point my joints felt and looked a bit better, and if I felt better in general.

I even got an on-purpose hangover just to see if it could work as a hangover cure. I know, it’s a hard knock life.

I wanted to talk to someone I trusted on the subject, so I got in touch with Miriam Schaffer, a former Telluride local who recently relocated to Boulder to become a clinical herbalist and certified nutritionist.

Schaeffer is also the current co-owner of Space & Thyme, LLC Gardens specializing in low water and native medicinal and edible garden-scapes and shreds the gnar and sends it like a beast in generally all high-impact and outdoor sports. In short, she understands the lifestyles we lead here in Telluride and the region and has also earned insight into natural and healthy ways to address the physical ramifications of an outdoor-oriented life.

According to Schaeffer, Turmeric’s positive effects on the body, including its anti-inflammatory and detoxification properties stem from its ability to “down-regulate and inhibit the activity of certain pro-inflammatory enzymes.”

Moreover, unlike Ibuprofen, Acetometaphin, aspirin and any opioid pain-killers (you know, the fun ones), turmeric doesn’t thrash your internal organs or pose any kind of overdose risk or negative side effects.

“Yes, it [turmeric] is safe!” Schaffer exclaimed, “Overdose is not a concern if you are consuming it in its traditional form (in food, as a powder). If you are taking a supplement of curcumin (which is the active anti inflammatory constituent in turmeric) then it is still nothing to be concerned about.”

Schaffer recommends turmeric as a substitute to an ibuprofen or other OTC regimen primarily because it only has positive effects on the body, “And because we know of the long-term effects of systemic inflammation on the body (i.e most diseases).”

Although she emphasized that finding the root cause of the inflammation and addressing that is the most important step for anyone dealing with chronic inflammation or pain, turmeric is a no-lose proposition.

For someone who has a condition that causes inflammation (i.e rheumatoid arthritis) she suggests buying a supplement of curcumin (the active constituent) because turmeric is not necessarily well absorbed in the body. Further, she recommends that the supplement of curcumin also contain the active constituent in pepper – piperine – because this compound will increase bioavailiabilty of curcumin by a significant amount.

For those just looking to boost their health, she recommends just using the powdered form of turmeric, but still mixing in some black pepper [to aid absorption].

Turmeric? Easy, tasty, cheap. I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself, but do feel as if I am taking a proactive step in doing something good for my body.

“However you can make it palatable is great – smoothie, curry – whatever works,” she said.

Armed with this knowledge and very limited cash flow I opted to try eating the powder and set about finding recipes for smoothies. What ended up working for me on a taste-bud level was something called Golden Milk, which you can find online. Essentially a blend of coconut milk, turmeric and other herbs (I use honey too), it has an almost Chai-like flavor and I like adding it to my coffee in the morning.

I’ve been drinking my “turmeric coffee” every morning for about a month and have definitely noticed some positive effects. They are not as pronounced as popping a pill, but my knees seem to be able to go a bit longer before they start screeching and when I rest them they feel better more quickly. Sure it could be placebo, but who cares? The stuff tastes good, and it’s not doing me any harm whatsoever.

As for a detoxifier, those results are almost impossible to measure. As a hangover cure I thought it did about as well as anything, but perhaps coconut milk and coffee would also have done the trick.

I guess the takeaway I have from my (continuing) experiment is this: I’ve researched many other “natural” ways to feel better and have never been even remotely interested or able to try them.

Cut out gluten? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Cut out alcohol? Hell to the no.

Yoga class, twice a week? Beautiful idea, but I can’t afford it. And besides, I’d rather be skiing.

Physical therapy, rolfing, body work, acupuncture? All too expensive for a freelance writer who skis 150 days a year.

Turmeric? Easy, tasty, cheap. I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself, but do feel as if I am taking a proactive step in doing something good for my body. And it is minimal effort. I might not be able to drive to yoga twice a week, but I can certainly open a few cans and bottles and press “liquify” on my blender on a semi-weekly basis.

So go ahead. Shell out the $6.99 for the nice stuff and try yourself a smoothie. Or add it to your cooking. Or buy the pills. Truly a win-win with no downside. Why wouldn’t you want to get on that bandwagon?

Allison Does is a new health and lifestyles column by SJI contributor Allison Perry, in which the author “tries something out” for a period of time and reports back to her readers on the results. 

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About the Author

Allison Perry

Allison Perry was born and raised in New York City and earned a BA in Political Science from The University Of Wisconsin - Madison and a JD at Case Western Reserve University School Of Law before moving to Alaska with the hopes of becoming the next Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. Although she went so far as to pass the Bar Exam in Sarah Palin's playground, she became disillusioned with law and decided to pursue her dream of becoming a journalist and a photographer. She moved to Colorado in 2010 and after a few years ski-bumming and retailing, she was finally able to transform her freelance writing into a full time career at The Watch. Allison believes local journalism is an essential part of living in a small town, and strives to write objectively, in plain English, with a critical eye and a dash of sarcasm here and there. She is stoked to be a part of the San Juan Independent.