In a previous study, the researchers found that joint inflammation in rats was reduced by turmeric, and the latest study, published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, was formulated to determine exactly what in the turmeric was anti-inflammatory.
The scientists gathered extracts from the root of the turmeric plant, the rhizome, and compared them to commercially available turmeric products. An extract containing curcumin but free of essential oils was found to be the most effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in lab rats.
The researchers theorize that the extract causes the protein NF-KB -- which determines when genes are turned on or off, and increases the production of joint-attacking inflammatory proteins -- to remain dormant in joints. The extract also blocked a pathway in the body that had previously been linked to bone loss, which led researchers to believe it could also be used to treat osteoporosis. Lead researcher Dr. Janet Funk and her colleagues suggested that turmeric extract might also be useful in treating other inflammatory conditions such as asthma, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease.
The researchers said that while new drugs may be developed from the information, eating more of the spice is unlikely to have an effect. They added that more clinical trials would be needed before they could recommend turmeric supplements as a treatment for anything.
Professor Robert Moots, professor of rheumatology at Liverpool University, U.K. and spokesman for the Arthritis Research Campaign, agreed.
"It will come as no surprise if naturally occurring compounds have a drug-like effect," he said. "I do not think there is any evidence that countries that eat a lot of turmeric have a lower frequency of rheumatoid arthritis. So simply eating more spices is not likely to be effective clinically."
"The findings are interesting but should be interpreted with some caution at this stage," said Dr. Anne Barton, senior lecturer and honorary consultant rheumatologist at the University of Manchester, U.K. "Results of tests in animal models of arthritis are not always reproduced in human rheumatoid arthritis."
For more information on the effects of foods and spices such as turmeric on health, visit www.HealingFoodReference.com.