Is There a Role for Turmeric in Ulcerative Colitis?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term for several conditions that cause severe inflammation in the digestive system. The two primary illnesses under this term are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These conditions differ based on where they occur in the intestine and the symptoms they cause. The primary symptom of ulcerative colitis are ulcers in the digestive tract, leading to pain, diarrhea, and inflammation. Crohn’s disease causes severe inflammation throughout the gut, also leading to pain and digestive disturbances.
If left untreated, IBD can lead to severe malnutrition and other debilitating symptoms. Unfortunately, the cause of these conditions is unknown and a firm diagnosis can be challenging. Current medical treatments for IBD, such as corticosteroids, have significant side effects. Therefore, there is an effort to find effective treatments with fewer adverse side effects.1
Curcumin, the powerful antioxidant in turmeric, has recently been found to be potentially beneficial for ulcerative colitis. Curcumin is well known as an anti-inflammatory agent. This is because curcumin can lower the amount of inflammatory cytokines, or molecules in the body that signal inflammation.2 Therefore, it may have the potential to reduce inflammation caused by ulcerative colitis. Although research on curcumin and ulcerative colitis is preliminary, the results are promising.
One study evaluated the effect of curcumin on 50 patients with mild-to-moderate ulcerative colitis. These patients did not respond to the maximum dose of a medication called mesalamine. During the month-long study period, they were given 3,000 mg per day of curcumin or a placebo pill in addition to the mesalamine treatment. A placebo is a harmless pill identical to the curcumin supplement that is designed to have no real effect. Of those that received the curcumin, 53.8% were in remission after 4 weeks, compared to none of the patients who received the placebo.3
A slightly larger study evaluated the use of curucmin on the prevention of relapse in 89 patients with ulcerative colitis. Half the patients received 2,000 mg of curcumin per day in addition to standard medications and the other half were given a placebo for six months. Of the patients who received curcumin, only 2 (4.65%) relapsed during the six-month study period, whereas 8 (20.51%) relapsed in the placebo group. Researchers concluded that curcumin could potentially help reduce the risk of relapse in patients with UC, although larger studies are needed.4
Is curcumin a viable treatment for ulcerative colitis?
Although this research is promising, these studies are not large enough to draw conclusive results. A large-scale, double blind trial needs to be conducted to help determine the proper use and dosage of curcumin for people with ulcerative colitis. Other criteria for the use of curcumin also need to be established such as any potential drug interactions and the best time to initiate treatment. Regardless, the results are encouraging. Curcumin may provide a complement to traditional treatments with fewer negative side effects.
- Blog Contributor