Curcumin for Pain & What Ails Athletes

Turns out, curcumin could be your cure for a few ailments this year. Curcumin for pain, arthritis, anti-inflammatory effects, and more. Whenever a natural nutrient, that is healthful for our bodies in general can also be used therapeutically, it’s great news in my book! I’ve got 3 different ways athletes can add turmeric, and it’s main healthful component, curcumin, to the diet. Here’s the how and the why of curcumin for athletes:carrotturmeric1

Recipe of the Week: 3 Ways to Add Turmeric to your Diet (Drinks, Foods, Supplement):

#1: Cold-Fighting, Pain-Relieving, Nourishing Turmeric Tea – this easy to make tea is wonderfully flavorful, and oh-so-good-for-you!

#2: Turmeric Dinner Sauce for Light at Night Eating – Add Flavor, Antioxidants, and Anti-Inflammatories to any Dinner Meal.

#3: Turmeric Smoothie: Great for Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks, or Recovery after a Ride, Turmeric is an easy & extra-healthy addition to smoothies!

Bonus #4: Turmeric Supplements – When you need more of a therapeutic dose, for any ailment described below, try 1-2 turmeric supplements  or 500-1000 mg per day (these are simply powdered turmeric in capsules). See safety warnings below.

Brands I use:


Goodness, gracious – turmeric, and its curcumin, are powerful! In fact, there’s not much to not like about Turmeric.  It’s vibrantly beautiful.  It’s peppery and flavorful.  And, in the body, it:

  • Is a powerful antioxdant.  In fact, both the volatile oils and the actual yellow/orange pigment of the turmeric plan exert powerful antioxidant effects.   They neutralize free radicals and reduce their damage to our cells and tissues.  They also provide anti-inflammation benefits, and specifically reduce joint swelling and pain associated with joint overuse when consumed regularly.
  • Acts as an effective treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and digestive issues.  Believe it or not, the nutrients in turmeric safely relieve colitis symptoms, and can remain protective for the gut for days after consumption!
  • Reduces risk of cancers, improve cystic fibrosis symptoms, and relieves arthritis pains!  Like many spices, turmeric is an all-around great food that should be included as a regular component of our diets.
  • Is a powerful Anti-Depressant. In fact, a recent study of 60 volunteers diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) indicated that curcumin was as effective as Prozac in managing depression. And, it was well-tolerated by all participants, without the side effects often experienced with anti-depressents. According to the authors of the study, “This study provides first clinical evidencethat curcumin may be used as an effective and safe therapy for treatment in patients with Mild Depression.” Wow. (Sanmukhani J, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Curcumin in Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Phytother Res 2013)
  • Reduces inflammation. The journal Oncogene published the results of a study that evaluated several anti-inflammatory compounds and found that aspirin and ibuprofen are least effective, while curcumin, is among the most effective anti-inflammatory compounds in the world. (Yasunari Takada, et al. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents differ in their ability to suppress NF-kappaB activation, inhibition of expression of cyclooxygenase-2 and cyclin D1, and abrogation of tumor cell proliferation. Oncogene 2004; 23(57): 9247-58.)
  • Provides Arthritis & Pain Management & Reduction. Due to its strong anti-inflammatories, curcumin can reduce pain in joints, ligaments, muscles, and throughout the body. In fact, a study was conducted on 45 rheumatoid arthritis patients to compare the benefits of curcumin in turmeric to arthritis drugs (diclofenac sodium), that put people at risk of developing leaky gut and heart disease. According to the authors, “The curcumin group showed the highest percentage of improvement in overall [Disease Activity Score] scores and these scores were significantly better than the patients in the diclofenac sodium group. More importantly, curcumin treatment was found to be safe and did not relate with any adverse events. Our study provides the first evidence for the safety and superiority of curcumin treatment in patients with active RA, and highlights the need for future large-scale trials to validate these findings in patients with RA and other arthritic conditions.” (Banafshe HR, et al. Effect of curcumin on diabetic peripheral neuropathic pain: Possible involvement of opioid system. Eur J Pharmacol 2013; [Epub ahead of print].)

My own story: And although not as conclusive as this study, I have my own anecdotal evidence of its strong pain relief effects. For much of the summer, I suffered from strained hip flexors, on my right leg, from over-use from running and biking the steep trails and roads by my home. The seldom experienced any pain when running or riding, but it could become excruciating when sitting at my desk, and when sleeping. At one point, I was waking several times per day due to the pain. Muscle rub creams helped, ginger supplements helped, but nothing relieved it completely. UNTIL, I added turmeric supplements – I began taking  2 ginger supplements and 2 turmeric supplements each day, one dose of each in the morning or before my workout, and one before bed. I couldn’t believe it, but within 2 weeks, all my pain was gone, and it hasn’t come back in 6 weeks. I never stopped running or riding. I had always foam rolled and practiced some yoga. None of that changed, the turmeric supplement was the only variable in my study-of-one.

SAFETY WARNINGS: Discuss any new supplements or foods with your health care provider. People taking certain medications should also be careful when using turmeric in their food or supplementing with it. Turmeric may interfere with anti-coagulants like aspirin, clopidogrel and warfarin. It also can affect medications such as non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. As with any herb or supplement, use as directed.

Not much more to say. If you need a therapeutic dose, talk to your doctor and consider adding a supplement. For everyday health and wellness, certainly add turmeric to your diet when possible. What a wonderful spice for athletes!

Fuel Your Adventure. Nourish Your Body.

***Kelli Jennings is a Registered Dietician, sports nutritionist, avid endurance athlete, and owner of Apex Nutrition, LLC. She has partnered with Heights Performance to help clients get and stay healthy, lose fat, recover from injury, and reduce the risk of chronic disease. She is also an expert in endurance sports nutrition, and focuses on optimal performance, best strength to weight ratio, recovery, endurance and stamina. She teaches clients to eat nourishing, real foods without spending hours in the kitchen or hiring a personal chef. Kelli can help you put great nutrition into everyday life.***

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