Turmeric prevents experimental rheumatoid arthritis, bone loss, University of Arizona study shows

TUCSON, Ariz. An ancient spice, long used in traditional Asian medicine, may hold promise for the prevention of both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, according to a recently completed study at The University of Arizona College of Medicine.

Turmeric, the spice that flavors and gives its yellow color to many curries and other foods, has been used for centuries by practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine to treat inflammatory disorders. Turmeric extract containing the ingredient curcumin is marketed widely in the Western world as a dietary supplement for the treatment and prevention of a variety of disorders, including arthritis.

At the UA College of Medicine, Janet L. Funk, MD, working with Barbara N. Timmermann, PhD, then-director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded Arizona Center for Phytomedicine Research at the UA, set out to determine whether (and how) turmeric works as an anti-arthritic. They began by preparing their own extracts from the rhizome, or root, of the plant, providing themselves with well-characterized materials to test and to compare with commercially available products. (Dr. Timmermann since has joined the faculty of the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kan.)

Dr. Funk and her colleagues then tested in animal models a whole extract of turmeric root, only the essential oils, and an oil-depleted extract containing the three major curcuminoids found in the rhizome. Of the three extracts, the one containing the major curcuminoids was most similar in chemical composition to commercially available turmeric dietary supplements. It also was the most effective, completely inhibiting the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.

Dr. Funk, an endocrinologist in the UA Department of Medicine, says this study provides several noteworthy "firsts." Completed with the researchers' own prepared, well-defined extracts, the study represents the first documentation of the chemical composition of a curcumin-containing extr

Contact: Janet Funk, M.D.
University of Arizona Health Sciences Center

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