With the safety of traditional anti-inflammatory medicines recently being questioned, many individuals are turning to natural supplements including ginger and turmeric for relief from pain, swelling, and inflammation.
With the safety of traditional anti-inflammatory medicines recently being questioned, many individuals are turning to natural supplements for relief from pain, swelling, and inflammation.
Of the many supplements available, two in particular have been found to possess powerful pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties without significant side effects.
Zingiber officinale, or ginger, is one of the best-documented medicinal plants. Pharmacologically, ginger root contains several hundred active ingredients, but the most important constituent is a group of substances known as the 4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl (HMP) compounds, including ingredients such as gingerol and shogaol.
Ginger works in two different ways:
1. When a tissue is injured, a group of immune modulators called cytokines are formed by the white blood cells. These cytokines, in particular, interleukin-1 (IL-1) and tumour necrosis factor (TNF), can damage cartilage, muscle, or other soft tissue, creating pain and inflammation. In addition, these cytokines stimulate the production of enzymes that further degrade tissue. Ginger helps prevent the white blood cells from liberating cytokines at high rates, thereby decreasing pain and inflammation.
2. Ginger balances the ratio of inflammatory to anti-inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes in the body. Under normal circumstances, the body is able to maintain this balance; however, in inflammatory diseases or conditions, or following injury, the balance is disrupted, resulting in an increase in pro-inflammatory chemicals and, subsequently, pain and inflammation.
Ginger has an inhibitory effect on two main enzymes that regulate the production of the inflammatory substrates: cyclo-oxygenase-2 (COX-2) and 5-lipoxygenase (5-LOX), greatly diminishing pain and inflammation without any adverse side effects. In one randomized, double-blind study of 261 patients, ginger significantly reduced knee pain as compared to a placebo.
Ginger should be used with caution in individuals receiving pharm-aceutical blood thinners.
Curcuma longa, or turmeric, is a perennial herb belonging to the ginger family, used throughout Asia for centuries to reduce pain and inflammation. Turmeric, like ginger, inhibits COX-2 and 5-LOX activity, thereby decreasing the production of those inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes.
In addition, it is thought that turmeric inhibits the breakdown and metabolism of cortisone by the liver, increasing the amount of circulating cortisone and prolonging its anti-inflammatory, analgesic effects. It is believed to increase the body’s production of other adrenal corticosteroids, which also possess anti-inflammatory properties, in those with weakened or deficient adrenals who are not making enough steroid of their own. Further studies support a role for turmeric in the sensitization or priming of cortisone receptors, enhancing the activity of this anti-inflammatory hormone.
Studies comparing the efficacy of turmeric to that of phenylbutazone, a pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory drug, showed that patients improved equally with either treatment; however, the turmeric group showed fewer side effects.
Turmeric can cause slight stomach upset with prolonged use and has been shown to increase the production and flow of bile. Therefore, it should be avoided by those with bile duct blockages or gallstones.