Medical researchers have long understood that inflammation plays a role in nearly every chronic disease, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Inflammation is also the culprit behind many minor aches and pains, including headache, backaches and minor joint pain. That explains the ever-increasing popularity of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil®) and naproxen (Aleve®).
Known as NSAIDs, these non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs work well to relieve minor pain and reduce inflammation, but long-term use can cause gastric erosions, stomach ulcers, and even kidney damage.
Therefore, it is no wonder that nutrition science researchers have continuously been on the lookout for natural anti-inflammatory agents that can reduce inflammation and relieve pain without the side effects of NSAIDs.
And while the research into natural herbs and nutrients that can prevent inflammation has been ongoing, 2010 was the year that science finally discovered how natural anti-inflammatory agents like Boswellia, curcumin, ginger and omega-3 fatty acids work to fight inflammation. In particular, scientific studies are proving that regulating inflammation caused by the immune system is particularly powerful in the fight against arthritis.
Ginger’s anti-inflammation properties
One of the earliest natural substances to be identified as having anti-inflammatory properties is ginger. Back in the 1970’s researchers identified ginger as an herbal medicinal product that shares pharmacological properties with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
More recently, a study in the 2005 summer issue of the Journal of Medicinal Food found that ginger inhibits the induction of several genes involved in inflammatory response. This was an important breakthrough in helping determine how ginger works in the body to prevent inflammation that can cause pain. The authors noted that, “This discovery provided the first evidence that ginger modulates biochemical pathways activated in chronic inflammation.”1
Inflammation and arthritis
Back in 2007, researchers from the Division of Immunology, Department of Medicine, University of Cincinnati, reported that natural products were a potential gold mine for the treatment of arthritis. This study reviewed the power of anti-inflammatory agents like curcumin (from turmeric), resveratrol (red grapes, cranberries and peanuts), tea polyphenols, and boswellic acid and stated “all have potential for the treatment of arthritis.”2
Another study from 2007 found that the combination of boswellic acid and glucosamine showed a synergistic effect, meaning they work together, to reduce inflammation that can cause arthritis. “…significant anti-arthritic activity was observed in (laboratory animals),” said the authors.3
Curcumin, arthritis and aging
Scientists have long known that curcumin from the spice turmeric contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds. A study published in late 2009 looked at all the research surrounding curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties and its therapeutic power to treat inflammation related diseases like arthritis.
This paper reported that curcumin is a highly pleiotropic, meaning it interacts with numerous molecular targets involved in inflammation. And, after reviewing all the research based on early cell culture, animal studies and clinical trials, the researchers concluded that curcumin has great potential to treat arthritis and other diseases caused by inflammatory conditions.4
Another exciting study looked at curcumin’s anti-inflammatory power as an anti-aging therapy. This research was conducted by the Laboratory of Molecular Bases of Ageing in Warsaw, Poland. In their paper titled The promise of slow down ageing may come from curcumin. The researchers suggested that, because low grade inflammatory process are believed to substantially contribute to ageing, slowing ageing and postponing the onset of age-related diseases may be achieved by blocking the genes related to inflammation.5
Of course, more research will need to be done to prove curcumins power to slow down aging, but the fact that researchers are looking at natural anti-inflammatory agents like curcumin to ward off aging is very promising.
The boswellia inflammation breakthrough
Perhaps the biggest anti-inflammation arthritis breakthrough, and the reason Natural Anti-Inflammatories is one of the top nutrition science story of the year, are two studies dealing with extracts from boswellia.
The first study was conducted in a laboratory using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry that was designed to see if botanicals used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, like boswellia, inhibited cyclooxygenase (COX). In the body, COX-1 and COX-2 convert arachidonic acid to prostaglandin, resulting in pain and inflammation, that’s why inhibiting COX production is so important.
What the researchers found was that various compounds found in boswellia extract, including beta-boswellic acid, acetyl-alpha-boswellic acid, and acetyl-beta-boswellic acid were all powerful inhibitors of COX.6
The second 2010 breakthrough regarding boswellia found that boswellic acid works with the body’s immune system to inhibit the production of leukotrienes. Many chronic inflammatory diseases, including arthritis are associated with increased leukotriene activity. From the pharmacological properties of boswellia extracts and boswellic acid, it is not surprising (we’ve found) positive effects of boswellia extract in some chronic inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis… concluded the researchers.7
The fact that boswellia extract works both as a COX inhibitor and with the immune system to prevent inflammation is new knowledge that helps explain why boswellia is a good choice for arthritis suffers.
Omega-3 fatty acids and arthritis
Omega-3 fatty acids are already well known for their ability to protect the heart and brain for disease, but new studies are demonstrating that it is also a powerful anti-inflammatory and can help those who suffer from arthritis.
A recent review of the studies focusing on omega-3 fatty acids and arthritis found convincing data to support the efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids in reducing joint pain and shortening the duration of morning stiffness in arthritis suffers.8
And even more exciting is the study published in the May 2010 issue of Nutrition Review that explains how omega-3 fatty acids produce their anti-inflammatory properties.
It turns out lipid mediators in the body, called eicosanoids, play an important role in the regulation of inflammation. Eicosanoids derived from omega-6 fatty acids have a pro-inflammatory effect, and eicosanoids derived from omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, which scientists believe is attributed to their ability to inhibit the formation of omega-6 derived eicosanoids. Increasing the dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids through consumption of fatty fish or fish-oil supplements, reductions can be achieved in the incidence chronic diseases that involve inflammatory processes like arthritis.9
Again, the breakthrough here is that researchers now understand how omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation that causes arthritis.
- Grzann R, Lindmark L, Frondoza CG. Ginger–an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions. J Med Food. 2005 Summer;8(2):125-32
- Khanna D. Sethi G, Ahn KS, Pandey MK, Kunnumakkara AB, Sung B, Aggarwal A, Aggarwaj BB. Natural products as a gold mine for arthritis treatment. Curr Opin Pharmacol 2007 Jun;7(3):344-51. Epub 2007 May 1.
- Singh S. Khajuria A, Taneja SC, Khajuria RK, Singh J, Qazi GN. Boswellic acids and glucosamine show synergistic effect in preclinical anti-inflammatory study in rats. Bioorg Med Chem Lett. 2007 Jul 1;17(13):3706-11. Epub 2007 Apr 19.
- Jurenka JS. Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a major constituent of Curcuma longa: a review of preclinical and clinical research. Altern Med Rev. 2009 Sep;14(3):277
- Sikora E, Bielak-Zmijewska A, Mosieniak G, Piwocka K. The promise of slow down ageing may come from curcumin. Curr Pharm Des. 2010;16(7):884-92.
- Cao H, Yu R, Choi Y, Ma ZZ, Zhang H, Xiang W, Lee DY, Berman BM, Moudgil KD, Fong HH, van Breeman RB. Discovery of cyclooxygenase inhibitors from medicinal plants used to treat inflammation. Pharmacol Res. 2010 Jun;61(6):519-24. Epub 2010 Feb 24.
- Ammon HP. Modulation of the immune system by Boswellia serrata extracts and boswellic acids. Phytomedicine 2010 Sep;17(11):862-7. Epub 2010 Aug 8.
- Ruggiero C, Lattanzio F, Laurentani F, Gasperini B, Andres-Lacueva C, Cherubini A. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and immune-mediated diseases: inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Curr Pharm Des. 2009;15(36):4135-48
- Wall R, Ross RP, Fitzgerald GF, Stanton C. Fatty acids from fish: the anti-inflammatory potential of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Nutr Rev. 2010 May;68(5):280-9