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Turmeric - a cure for back pain?

3 min read

Most of us are familiar with Turmeric as the spice that lends a distinctive deep yellow colour to Indian dishes. A lesser known use for Turmeric is as an excellent natural alternative medicine for the treatment of back pain and inflammation. 

Turmeric is a member of the ginger family which has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. Modern day researchers are also excited about the spice’s ability to heal.

Here we examine the research into this ancient root and look at why it may be particularly useful in treating back pain, a condition which is thought to silently plague 80% of people at some point in their lives.

Back pain - a physiological epidemic

Few people escape back pain: during any one year up to half the UK population is affected. Many sufferers struggle to sleep well and this can have knock-on effects on energy and concentration levels. Little wonder, then, that back pain is one of the leading causes of sick leave.

A great deal of the pain associated with back problems is due to inflammation, the body’s natural response to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants. The classical signs of acute inflammation are pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function.

Traditionally prescribed drugs can have serious side effects 

For most sufferers the first step is to turn to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or diclofenac, and analgesics such as paracetamol.  These are widely accepted drugs for managing pain relief however regular use of these types of medication is associated with significant, and very serious, side effects. This includes cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal harm e.g. stomach ulcers and kidney and/or liver damage. For these reasons many people are now turning to alternative treatments for help.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) - a natural alternative

Turmeric is a spice which is believed to have been used medicinally for thousands of years. In 1280AD Marco Polo noted the use of turmeric in his diary while in China. The ancient Polynesians of Oceania took turmeric with them on their voyage across the Pacific to Hawaii where it is still widely used.

A number of studies have found that turmeric appears to have a powerful ability to reduce inflammation in the body. This anti-inflammatory action is thought to be due to an active ingredient in the spice called curcumin which blocks inflammatory pathways which trigger swelling and pain. This compound is thought to work by inhibiting a number of different molecules that play a role in inflammation in the body. 

Turmeric is also a powerful antioxidant so helps protects the body’s cells against damage from harmful free radicals.

You can use Turmeric as a spice in your cooking however the all important curcumin content in the powder is normally considerably less than that of Turmeric in supplement form. If you choose to take Turmeric in supplement form i.e. turmeric tablets, you should look for one which guarantees a curcumin content as this is the important active ingredient. Look for a level of 450mg or above per capsule/tablet as a good reference guide.

Whilst not a cure for back pain, extensive research and evidence suggests that it is highly beneficial for helping to aid in peoples suffering.

To date no toxic side effects have been associated with this supplement.

Top tip

Turmeric is often taken alongside bromelain which is a digestive enzyme believed to enhance the anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric and improve its absorption by the body.

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.