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Curcumin may benefit inflammatory bowel disease patients

Armen Hareyan's picture

Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, may be an effective treatment for inflammatory bowel disease, also known as IBD. Researchers at the Steele Children’s Research Center at The University of Arizona report that curcumin reduces the severe inflammation and the associated damage inflicted on the intestinal tract.

For thousands of years, turmeric (which is derived from the rhizomes of Curcuma longa) has been a popular treatment for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, as well as colds and even cancer. Yet until recently, scientists did not know exactly which compound(s) gave this spice its medicinal properties. This recent study, along with several previous ones, have identified curcumin as possessing healing qualities.

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In people who do not have inflammatory bowel disease, white blood cells called neutrophils travel to any inflammatory site in the intestinal tract and destroy the organisms that are causing the infection. However, in patients who have inflammatory bowel disease, an excessive number of neutrophils rush to the inflammation and damage the intestine instead of helping it heal. Researchers at the University of Arizona found that curcumin suppresses the amount of neutrophils that migrate to the inflammation site, which in turn reduces the damage to the intestines.

According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, about one million Americans have IBD. That number is about evenly split between the two types of IBD, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Typically ulcerative colitis is diagnosed in people in their mid-thirties, while Crohn’s disease mainly affects individuals between ages 15 and 35. Both conditions, however, can affect people of any age. Males and females are equally affected.

In people who have ulcerative colitis, previous studies have shown that curcumin supplements, when compared with placebo, reduced the number of relapses by about fifty percent. A recent article in Current Pharmaceutical Design also notes that in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, curcumin “and its unrivalled safety profile suggest that it has bright prospects.”

Written by Deborah Mitchell
Sources: University of Arizona Health Science Center Office of Public Affairs
Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America
Current Pharmaceutical Design 2009; 15(18): 2087-94.