Turmeric vs Ibuprofen
Ibuprofen, or 'vitamin I' as many lovingly refer to it, is of course a common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that occupies the shelves of many athletes' medicine cabinets. Despite its popularity, it has several serious side effects that many aren't aware of.
Also sold as Advil or Motrin, ibuprofen works by inhibiting a class of hormones in the body known as prostaglandins. They're basically responsible for the pain and inflammation that comes with injury and stress on the body.
While this class of hormones serves a purpose (letting us know we're injured and should rest), they can be persistent and lead to quite a bit of physical grief when they're being produced in large quantities.
And while ibuprofen works really well at shutting the prostaglandins down, it doesn't come without a cost.
Some of the most common side effects from ibuprofen include:
GI bleeding in the stomach and small intestines (by the way there's no safe dose with this -as little as one 200mg tablet can cause GI bleeding).
Kidney and liver damage
Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
It also impairs cartilage repair - cartilage slowly wears down over the years and taking ibuprofen just makes it even harder for the body to repair this precious asset!
Sadly we're all told to take this drug for joint pain...
No, I'm not making this stuff up nor exaggerating it - all of this info can be quickly found online, from credible sources.(1)
Unfortunately this drug is pushed on us and it's common to see advertisements for it everywhere at races and in the gym.
Personally, I avoid this stuff as much as I can. As athletes, I think many of us are used to discomfort and pain - and we know our bodies well enough to understand what pain is normal and which isn't. That being said, I still run into a lot of people who disregard the side effects of this drug and even take it prophylactically.
But, what if I told you that the spice turmeric has similar anti-inflammatory effects to ibuprofen(2), but without the side effects?
Turmeric is a spice derived from India; it’s often used as a flavoring agent in dishes like curry. However, it's a group of compounds - the curcuminoids - and specifically curcumin, which is extracted from the turmeric that really does the magic.
FYI - The two names (turmeric and curcumin) are often used interchangeably, but it's really curcumin that we're talking about being as effective as ibuprofen. (So no, just putting some turmeric in your food or smoothie probably won't do much for you in terms of stopping pain and inflammation.)
Curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects that make it as potent as ibuprofen. It's great for relieving pain (especially joint pain) and has few, if any side effects. Reported side effects include stomach upset (and gas) and in certain people who are susceptible it can lead to gallbladder contractions (so be careful if you have gallstones!)
Other than being a great anti-inflammatory and pain reliever, there's a lot of research showing that curcumin also has promise in preventing and treating several other chronic diseases like cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, depression and others. It's pretty amazing stuff.
So, due to the side effects of ibuprofen, and the relative effectiveness and safety of curcumin, we recommend incorporating this natural medicine into your regimen.
Personally, I take 500mg twice daily.
You need to know a few things about curcumin though before you rush out and buy it.
1. You want a curcumin extract, not straight turmeric!
2. Turmeric/curcumin is really poorly absorbed by the gut. Initially, supplement companies combined it with black pepper (piperine on the label) - this nearly doubles its absorption. However, new manufacturing methods now make curcumin 10x better absorbed - but it has to be 1 of 2 specific types of curcumin. These are known as 'Meriva' or 'BCM-95' - look for these names on the back of your supplement bottle. If you don't see them, it's probably not the best type of curcumin and not worth the money.
And lastly, ask your doctor before adding anything new to your health regimen. :)
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In Health, Fitness and Endurance,
Dr. Jason Barker