A Spicy Alternative to NSAIDs

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Filed Under: Bone & Joint Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

A Spicy Alternative to NSAIDs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are some of the most widely used medications used for all types of pain, particularly the wear-and-tear form of arthritis (osteoarthritis). In a study published last year in JAMA, researchers took a look at individuals being treated for high blood pressure or other cardiovascular problems and compared the health of those who used NSAIDs regularly to those who didn’t. After about 3 years, those who regularly used NSAIDs had a tremendous increase in their risk of heart attack, stroke, and death. Those who used NSAIDs had a 90% greater risk of dying from all causes and a 126% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, compared to those who didn’t.  I wholeheartedly recommend avoiding NSAIDs. But this presents a problem for those who rely on them to relieve pain and/or inflammation?

Well, you may have heard quite a bit about the almost miraculous benefits of the Indian spice turmeric. The most active component of turmeric, curcumin, appears to work in two separate pathways. First, it scavenges several varieties of free radicals, including hydroxyl, peroxide, and superoxide radicals. Second, it directly suppresses inflammation through compounds such as leukotrienes, interleukins, tumor necrosis factor alpha, nuclear factor kappa B, and the COX-2 enzyme.

One obvious benefit of reducing inflammation is in the relief of pain. It looks like turmeric is effective in this area as well. In fact, in one study 1,200 mg of turmeric daily was just as effective as 300 mg of the NSAID phenylbutazone at relieving arthritis pain. 

Unfortunately, turmeric is very poorly absorbed in your digestive tract. According to some estimates, less than 5 percent makes its way into your bloodstream. Turmeric is metabolized quickly, and it passes through the digestive tract quickly. Both factors contribute to the low absorption rate.

One strategy for improving the absorption of turmeric is a technology called phytosome encapsulation, in which droplets of an extract of the herb are wrapped in a thin layer of phosphatidylcholine (PC), a component of soy. The PC wrapping increases the absorption of turmeric by up to eight times. 

Now it's your turn: What are your natural alternatives to NSAIDs?

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