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Curcumin Aided Exercise & Eased Muscle Pain
Clinical trial adds to a growing list of health and workout benefits

02/18/2019 By Craig Weatherby

For centuries, turmeric root has been a staple of Asian medicine.

Turmeric features a trio of yellow-orange antioxidant compounds, collectively called curcumin.

Interest in curcumin rose when researchers noticed that curry-loving countries like India had lower rates of dementia and certain cancers.

Statistical links between copious consumption of a food and reduced risk for a disease can't prove a cause-effect relationship.

This led researchers to explore whether something in turmeric might have health-promoting powers.

Since then, the results of hundreds of lab studies – and a significant number of clinical studies – have suggested that curcumin supports or enhances immune, joint, mood, metabolic, and brain health.

In animal studies, curcumin is shown to reduce muscle damage, pain, and inflammation after exercise.

And the results of a clinical study published three years ago suggest that those benefits may extend to people.

We summarized the results of that Italian trial in Curry's Vibrant Hue May Ease Muscle Soreness.

As its authors wrote, “Curcumin has the potential for preventing DOMS [delayed onset muscle soreness], as suggested by its effects on pain intensity and muscle injury.”

Lending support to those findings, two subsequent trials showed that curcumin may allow for faster recovery after exercise, and blunt declines in performance.

Both trials were double-blind, randomized, and placebo controlled, and were led by scientists from Texas Christian University, the University of Arkansas, and New Zealand’s Massey University.

Muscle damage/pain trial finds curcumin effective
This trial involved 88 young people — 59 men and 29 women — who routinely engaged in moderate aerobic exercise (Jäger R et al. 2017).

The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups for the eight-week trial:

  • Placebo capsules
  • Curcumin moderate-dose (50mg total curcuminoids)
  • Curcumin high-dose (200mg total curcuminoids)

After eight weeks of taking curcumin or placebo capsules, the participants performed an assigned regimen of downhill running, which produces more muscle damage and pain versus running uphill or on a level surface.

They reported their perceived levels of pain at points one hour, 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours after the downhill-running regimen.

Compared with the placebo group, the high-dose curcumin group showed two distinct advantages:

  • Reported significantly less pain.
  • Displayed smaller increases in creatine kinase (CK), which is a standard marker of muscle damage and inflammation.

As the study’s authors wrote, “These data demonstrate curcuminoids reduce muscle damage and improve muscle soreness in healthy young subjects following a bout of muscle damaging exercise. Faster recovery allows for consistent training at competition intensity and might lead to enhanced adaptation rate and performance.”

Performance trial sees curcumin benefits
This second trial involved 62 moderately trained men and women (Oliver JM et al. 2017).

As in the other trial, they were assigned randomly to one of three groups:

  • Placebo capsules
  • Curcumin moderate-dose (50mg total curcuminoids)
  • Curcumin high-dose (200mg total curcuminoids)

As in the first study, the participants took curcumin supplements or placebo capsules for eight weeks, and then performed the same regimen of downhill running.

Performance declined significantly in both the placebo and low-dose curcumin group, but the performance of participants in the high-dose curcumin group declined significantly less.

The researchers characterized the results this way: “These data suggest that high dose bioavailable curcumin (200mg curcuminoids) attenuates [reduces] performance decrements [declines] following downhill running … which may improve subsequent adaptations to chronic training.”

They went on to call for research into the effects of curcumin in other types of exercise, such as resistance (strength) training.

Why would curcumin produce the observed benefits?
Curcumin possesses well-documented antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Accordingly, Dr. Ralf Jäger — a co-author of both clinical trials — suggested that curcumin’s exercise benefits were probably linked to those effects.

A creatine kinase (CK) test can be used to detect inflammation in muscles, so the reduced decline in CK seen in the high-dose curcumin group may be related to curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties.

Oxidation in tissues promotes inflammation, so curcumin — a potent antioxidant — may ease both unwanted effects in exercise-stressed muscles.

Reducing oxidation in the body tends to also reduce inflammation — and curcumin produces well-documented “nutrigenomic” effects on genes that control inflammation.

Curcumin isn’t a miracle cure for exercise-related discomfort, and can’t be expected to provide dramatic improvements in athletic performance.

That said, growing evidence suggests that it may aid casual and career athletes alike.

And because curcumin appears to support human health in a variety of ways, it may be one of the most broadly beneficial exercise aids available.

Not all curcumin is created equal
Standard supplemental curcumin is not well-absorbed, and is probably not worth taking.

Newer, well-absorbed curcumin supplements boost absorption from 100 to 600 percent or more, via either of three techniques:

However, the simple act of including turmeric's volatile oils in a curcumin supplement yields a six-fold increase or more in absorption of curcumin (Aggarwal BB et al. 2013).

And formulating curcumin with turmeric's own oils is much less costly, versus the high-tech alternatives.

In addition, there’s growing evidence that turmeric’s volatile oils bring their own distinct but related benefits.

So, judging by cost per milligram of curcumin absorbed — and factoring in the benefits of turmeric’s volatile oils — supplements that combine turmeric’s volatile oils with its curcuminoids offer a significant cost-benefit advantage.


Sources

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  • Davis JM, Murphy EA, Carmichael MD, Zielinski MR, Groschwitz CM, Brown AS, Gangemi JD, Ghaffar A, Mayer EP. Curcumin effects on inflammation and performance recovery following eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2007 Jun;292(6):R2168-73. Epub 2007 Mar 1.
  • Drobnic F, Riera J, Appendino G, Togni S, Franceschi F, Valle X, Pons A, Tur J. Reduction of delayed onset muscle soreness by a novel curcumin delivery system (Meriva®): a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 Jun 18;11:31. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-11-31. eCollection 2014.
  • Jäger R et al. Curcumin Reduces Muscle Damage and Soreness Following Muscle-Damaging Exercise. The FASEB Journal. April 2017; vol. 31 no. 1 Supplement lb766
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  • Nicol LM, Rowlands DS, Fazakerly R, Kellett J. Curcumin supplementation likely attenuates delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Eur J Appl Physiol. 2015 Mar 21. [Epub ahead of print]
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