Living With Chronic Pain

Can Spices Help Reduce Inflammation And Pain?

I’m asked all the time, “What natural remedies are available to help my pain?” Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or infection, often causing localized redness, swelling, pain, or heat. This may then lead to loss of function in the involved tissues. Acute inflammation is a protective and localized response to issues such as infection, injury, wear and tear, and auto immune diseases. Inflammation is designed to heal the body and restore normal tissue function. But If inflammation persists for a prolonged period of time, it leads to chronic pain.

Last week I talked about foods that may help reduce chronic inflammation and pain. Another easy way to incorporate anti-inflammatories into your diet is by adding spices to your regular dishes. Here are 11 options that may help:

Turmeric: It is a brilliant yellow spice common in Indian cuisine that you can find in any grocery store. Turmeric has been used as a medicine for centuries to treat wounds, infections, colds, and liver disease. But it’s the curcuminoid compound that acts as an anti-inflammatory. Orthopedic researchers have shown decreased serum markers of inflammation (such as IL-1 and IL-6 and ESR) in patients taking a curcumin supplement.

In one study of patients with knee arthritis, those taking curcumin were able to double their walking distance. They were also able to decrease their drug use and had less knee swelling. In another study, 107 patients with knee osteoarthritis were randomized to ibuprofen or turmeric supplements for six weeks and the supplement group did as well as those on ibuprofen. Moreover, curcumin does not have the potential gastrointestinal side effects that ibuprofen has.

For anti-inflammatory effects you need to get 500 to 1,000 milligrams of curcuminoids per day. When using the spice on its own, the common rule of thumb is that there are 200 milligrams of curcumin in one teaspoon of fresh or ground turmeric. About 500 milligrams of curcuminoids a day is a good wellness dose for keeping inflammation away and promoting gut health.

Ginger: A zesty spice used in many cuisines, it has been used as a traditional medicine to treat stomach upset, headaches, and infections.  Its ability to decrease inflammation by preventing prostaglandin production (just like Motrin and naproxen), was discovered in the early 1970’s. In fact, a University of Miami study concluded that ginger extract could one day take the place of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The study compared the effects of a highly concentrated ginger extract to placebo in 247 patients with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. The ginger reduced pain and stiffness in knee joints by 40 percent over the placebo.

Choosing the most effective form of ginger may be the biggest challenge to reaping its rewards. While many forms of ginger boast health benefits, capsules provide the most benefit, since foods usually contain too little. Choose capsules that use “super-critical extraction,” because this purest form of ginger provides the greatest effect. Take ginger capsules with food. Although small amounts of ginger can help settle a sour stomach, concentrated doses can actually cause stomach upset. Foods with ginger smell wonderful but may not contain enough ginger to have an effect. Before taking ginger, be sure to check with your doctor. If your provider agrees, try a 100 to 200 mg ginger capsule each day, for four to six weeks to see if you feel an effect. Steer clear of ginger if you’re taking a blood-thinning medication, like warfarin (Coumadin), as ginger may reverse the effects of these types of drugs.

Cinnamon:  Cinnamon is more than just a delicious addition to our pastries. Studies have shown that the spice has anti-inflammatory properties, which can ease swelling. One of the main components of cinnamon, cinnamaldehyde, is known to inhibit certain proteins that are factors in causing inflammation. Moreover, cinnameldehyde prevents blood from clumping, which also protects against other inflammation related diseases. Keep a good supply of cinnamon on hand and sprinkle it in your coffee or tea, and on top of your breakfast cereal. It’s as delicious as it is nutritious. You may begin to notice the benefits of cinnamon when taking between 1-1.5 grams a day. More than this can lead to adverse reactions or indigestion.

Garlic:  The anti-inflammatory properties of garlic have been proven to ease arthritis symptoms since much of the pain is due to swelling. Garlic has known anti-inflammatory properties that decreases swelling, leading to less pain. In addition, garlic contains diallyl disulphide which is a compound that helps to limit enzymes that cause damage to cartilage. Garlic is thought to be most effective at reducing pain from arthritis when eaten as part of your diet. A little bit can go a long way. Use fresh garlic in almost any savory dish for added flavor and health benefits. If the taste is too much for you, roast a head of garlic for a sweeter, more mild flavor.

Chili peppers and cayenne: Both spices have been praised for their health benefits since ancient times. All chili peppers contain natural compounds called capsaicinoids which can produce highly selective regional anesthesia. These are what give the spicy fruit its anti-inflammatory properties so be sure to include a dash in your next dish. It has long been used as a digestive aid as well, so that’s an added benefit. There are topical capsaicin formulations now available to treat post-herpetic neuralgia, peripheral neuropathies and chronic musculoskeletal pain because of its anesthesia effect.

Black pepper: If cayenne is too hot for your liking, you’ll be happy to know that the more mild you black pepper has been identified for its anti-inflammatory properties as well. Known as the “King of Spices,” black pepper has been valued for its flavor and antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory benefits. Studies have shown that the chemical compounds of black pepper, particularly piperine, may be effective in the early acute inflammatory process. In the studies, piperine significantly inhibited the production of two important pro inflammatory mediators and acted significantly on early acute changes in the inflammatory process.

Cloves: Often used as an expectorant, cloves also treat upset stomach nausea, and inflammation of the mouth and throat. When University of Florida researchers had subjects consume cloves on a daily basis, they found that it took only seven days for cloves to significantly lower one specific pro-inflammatory cytokine. Powdered clove works well in baked goods and in some savory dishes, like hearty soups and stews. You can also use whole cloves to infuse both flavor and nutrition into hot drinks like tea or cider.

Saffron: If you can get your hands on this pricey, bold spice, you’ll be rewarded with more than just a pleasant flavor in your soups and rice dishes. A report in Anti-Inflammatory & Anti-Allergy Agents in Medicinal Chemistry reveals the anti-inflammatory effects of saffron can be attributed to crocin and crocetin – compounds responsible for the spice’s intense color. Opt for fresh saffron and add a pinch to rice, soups and stews. Get the most flavor by adding saffron early in cooking. And since its flavor is similar to vanilla, you can also use saffron in oatmeal or chia seed pudding.

Sage: The two primary compounds in sage, carnosic acid and carnosol, give sage its unique flavor and are responsible for many of its health benefits. Sage increases the activity of superoxide dismutase, which is responsible for metabolizing and eliminating superoxide from the body. Superoxide is a free radical that is known to cause considerable inflammation in the human body. Dried sage leaf has been indicated to reveal benefits at doses between 300 and 600 mg, but regular, fresh leaf should be taken in doses between four and six grams daily.

Rosemary:  Similar to Sage in composition and flavor, Rosemary also contains its own unique compound called rosmarinic acid. Rosmarinic acid is commonly used as a natural preservative and stabilizer in health supplements. Like sage, rosemary impacts the body’s production of superoxide dismutase. Its effects are more potent if you cook with the herbs, which helps to release some of the phytonutrients- apigenin and diosmin. These two compounds prevent your body from producing prostaglandins, which are responsible for causing an inflammation reaction throughout your body. Fresh rosemary leaf can be used at doses between four and six grams a day to help treat symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The essential oil can be used in doses of 0.1 to 1 ml to treat similar symptoms.

Green tea: Green tea has long been recognized to have cardiovascular and cancer preventative characteristics due to its antioxidant properties. Its use in the treatment of arthritic disease as an anti-inflammatory agent has been recognized more recently. The constituents of green tea are polyphenolic compounds called catechins. Epigallocatechin-3 galate, the most abundant catechin in green tea, inhibits degradation of cartilage. Green tea research now demonstrates both anti-inflammatory and bone protection effects. Additionally, research has revealed the “Asian paradox,” which theorizes that increased green tea consumption in Asia may also lead to significant cardiovascular, neuroprotective and cancer prevention properties. The usual recommendation is 3–4 cups of tea a day. Green tea extract has a typical dosage of 300–400 mg. Green tea can cause stomach irritation in some because of its caffeine content so a decaffeinated variety is also available.

These simple additions to meals may impact your pain. Taken with the precautions suggested and appropriate clearance from your healthcare provider, there’s no reason not to try them. At the very least, your dishes will have more flavor!

Next week I’ll discuss over-the-counter supplements that may also help reduce inflammation and pain.

dsc_0323-1    –Dr. Courtney

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