Studies show that the active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, is atleast as effective or more effective than ibuprofen for alleviating pain and inflammation in patients who do not know which one they are receiving. Curcumin is the healthier option because it does not disrupt our gut bacteria like ibuprofen would.
Here is why we need some anti inflammatory help from curcumin:
1) We consume far too much omega-6.
Omega-6 is necessary, but it competes with the even more important omega-3. Research shows that for optimal health a ratio of about 3:1 omega-6 to omega-3 is ideal. However, averages are in the range of anywhere from 12:1 to 25:1 based on current diet and nutrition.
This is a double edged sword, since omega-6’s are proinflammatory, a high ratio increases the levels of inflammation throughout our body and brain and therefore compromises our health and wellbeing (chronic inflammation is toxic to the brain). On the other hand, such a low omega 3 ratio is also likely to compromise neuronal membranes- the ‘protective shield’ around brain cells that regulates their function.
2) We are stressed.
It seems, on average, most people are more stressed than they should be. Whether stress is higher nowadays or we are just more aware of it, the fact is stress directly increases levels of inflammation. The ‘stress hormone’ cortisol actually alters our immune system in a way that provokes it to trigger the release of proinflammatory cytokines. In other words, boosting levels of inflammation. This is one of the reasons you get a cold after stressful experiences (for example, exams).
So should we just consume copious amounts of turmeric?
When NOT to consume turmeric:
1) After weight training
Most people think lifting weights is healthy for us. This isn’t really true.
Weight training in particular produces tiny micro tears in our muscles, which causes a release of proinflamamtory signals called cytokines (and myokines).
The reason weight training makes us stronger, faster, and ultimately healthier is because our body and brain ADAPTS to these stressful signals, so that it can better deal with similar types of stressors in the future. This is known as hormesis. By lowering these signals with turmeric post workout we prevent some of this positive adaptation.
When to load up on turmeric:
1) Post concussion
It frustrates me that post concussion nutrition receives little to no attention (I am working on it). The symptoms following a concussion, aswell as the long term health risks of concussions, are largely due to chronic levels of inflammation hanging around in the brain after the injury. Higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines in the brain (and interestingly also throughout the rest of the body) correlate with poor recovery.
Thus, a primary goal following concussion should be to mitigate inflammation. Many animals studies have shown that curcumin reduces levels of neuroinflamamtion post concussion and improves recovery.
2) After (binge) alcohol consumption
One of the reasons we feel so shitty and “fat headed” the next day is because alcohol causes massive brain inflammation. Remember, inflammation is an immune response, immune responses are triggered by changes from homeostasis (healthy/normal conditions), alcohol is poison so this is going to trigger that response about as hard as anything.
How to consume:
Turmeric is naturally not well absorbed. To increase its bioavailability, consume alongside black pepper, which has a compound called piperine that increases bioavailability of curcumin by over 2 000%.
To increase absorption into our cells which is where we really want it, consume alongside a healthy fat source like coconut oil. This will help transport it across cell membranes, and also across the blood brain barrier, which prevents the majority of substances in our surrounding body from gaining entry into the brain.
Turmeric and concussions- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24669820
Curcumin in the brain- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22742420
Curcumin vs. ibuprofen- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664031/