Bronchial asthma can be a life-threatening condition and even the medications used to treat it can be deadly. All the more reason why a new study on a turmeric extract safely improving the condition is so exciting.
According to the World Health Organization, bronchial asthma afflicts between 100-150 hundred million people worldwide (roughly the equivalent of the Russian Federation.[i] The condition is believed responsible for over 250,000 deaths annually.[ii] I myself suffered from this condition from at least six months of age when I was first diagnosed until the age of 18 when it disappeared almost overnight.
I still remember routinely experiencing severe asthma attacks requiring emergency room visits and the injection of epinephrine to open up my constricted airway passages. It was not until college, when I started getting deep into nutrition and natural healing, that I discovered the complete elimination of cow’s milk products like milk and cheese resulted in the total remission of my asthma, enabling me to leave behind the inhaler I used to tote around wherever I went.
Interestingly, it was around six months of age that I was prematurely weaned off of breast milk onto cow’s milk based formula. I suspect I am not an isolated case and that there are thousands of unsuspecting asthma patients who would benefit from removing cow’s milk products (especially conventionally produced and beta casein alpha-1 containing forms) from their diet as well.
There are, of course, a wide range of factors that contribute to the risk of developing asthma, which include environmental, dietary, and infectious triggers. there are also genetic and epigenetically inherited susceptibilities that are only now being explored in greater depth.
Unfortunately, modern day treatments for bronchial asthma rarely if ever focus on root causes (and removing them to obtain a full cure), but rather are palliative, focused on suppressing symptoms or preventing them from surfacing through manipulating biological pathways in the body with synthetic chemicals (pharmaceuticals).
One of the most commonly identified factors in bronchial asthma is chronic airway inflammation. Conventional medications try to address the acute constriction of the air passages and smooth muscle in the lung precipitated by the inflammatory cascade by using inhaled short-acting beta-agonists (such as salbutamol) and oral corticosteroids, but these drugs have a wide range of serious side effects (even increased asthma mortality!); nor do they address the underlying inflammation (or what causes it) directly.
This is why researchers are increasingly exploring anti-inflammatory botanical remedies which have ‘disease modifying properties,’ capable of correcting the deeper layers of imbalance beneath the symptoms that appear in chronic conditions like asthma.
New Research Reveals Turmeric Extract (Curcumin) Has Anti-Asthmatic Properties
In a promising new study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research titled “Evaluation of Efficacy of Curcumin as an Add-on therapy in Patients of Bronchial Asthma,” researchers evaluated the effects of a compound found in turmeric known as curcumin in 77 patients [mean age 32 years, divided evenly among female and male subjects] with mild to moderate bronchial asthma. Study subjects were randomly allocated to two groups:
- Group A: Receiving standard therapy for bronchial asthma- Formonide Resicaps BD German Remedies (Zydus Cadila HealthcareLtd) [Budesonide 100 mcg, formoterol 6 mcg], Cap ABflo BD Lupin Laboratories Ltd [Acebrophylline 100 mg], Tab Montek LC hs Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (Montelukast 10 mg, levocetirizine 5mg) for 30d;
- Group B: Receiving standard therapy for bronchial asthma as above + Cap Curcumin 500 mg daily for 30d.
The study evaluated the effect of the intervention through the following endpoints:
- Chest Tightness
- Nocturnal symptoms
- Change in bronchodilator forced expiratory volume one second (FEV1).
Secondary endpoints included:
- Change in the post-bronchodilator FEV1
- C-reactive protein (CRP) concentration
- Incidence of adverse events.
The results of the 30-day study were reported as follows:
“The results showed that curcumin capsules help in improving the airway obstruction which was evident by significant improvement in the mean FEV1 values. There was also significant improvement in the hematological parameters and absence of any clinically significant adverse events indicates dependable safety profile of curcumin capsules, though there was no apparent clinical efficacy. Therefore, it is concluded that curcumin is effective and safe as an add-on therapy for the treatment of bronchial asthma.”
This seemingly paradoxical conclusion, where on the one hand curcumin is found effective in improving airway obstruction, mean FEV1 values, and hematological (blood) parameters, and on the other hand results in ‘no apparent clinical efficacy,’ may be due to the following study limitations:
“This may be because the number of the study subjects were only 60, who completed the study, which may be insufficient numbers to provide a statistically significant result in the patient centered outcome measures (like asthma symptoms). Besides the dose and duration of curcumin administered may not be sufficient enough to produce clinically beneficial effect. Moreover the severity of clinical symptoms were assessed by an individual (as absent, mild, moderate and severe with scores of 0, 1, 2 and 3) thus were not much reliable. A further study with large subjects and modified dose is now required to investigate the effects of curcumin on symptomatic control. In addition, the study only explored the use of curcumin as an add-on therapy, and no information can be inferred on the use of this agent as monotherapy or as a steroidsparing agent. These areas need further exploration.”
The researchers also noted that curcumin alone (one of hundreds of phytocompounds identified in the whole plant) may not convey the same therapeutic properties as whole turmeric and referenced a previous study conducted in India as an example, “where 60% of asthma patients administered plain or ghee-fried turmeric powder showed a relief in their symptoms.”[iii] This is also why I advocate for using whole, traditionally prepared food as preventive medicine whenever possible [Learn more at EATomology].
We recently explored the topic of turmeric’s complex plant chemistry in greater depth in an article titled, “How WHOLE Turmeric Heals The Damaged Brain,” wherein a little known compound in turmeric known as ar-turmerone is revealed to have unique therapeutic properties independent of curcumin, underscoring how the whole herb is likely more therapeutic than just one of its parts.
The researchers also noted that a significant body of previously performed animal research has already demonstrated that curcumin is efficacious in improving asthma, making their human study finding a benefit to asthmatics less surprising. They also identified a few of the plausible physiological mechanisms through which curcumin exerts its anti-asthma effects:
- It is anti-inflammatory (suppressing iNOS production, scavenging free radicals, inhibiting the activiation of NF-kappaB, activiating protein 1 (AP1) and suppressing the production of proinflammatory cytokines). [Note: Greenmedinfo.com contains 90 studies on curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties.]
- It inhibits histamine release from mast cells.
- It restores histone deacetylases (HDAC), thereby restoring corticosteroid function.
On the Greenmedinfo.com database you can review 7 studies on this connection, as well as explore an extensive dataset on natural interventions for asthma beyond curcumin or turmeric.
[ii] “Global Strategy for Asthma Management and Prevention” (PDF). Global Initiative for Asthma. 2011.
[iii] SK Vemula, PR Turapati, RSR Ponugoti, P Garrepally. Asthma: Alternative management approaches. . Asian J Pharm Clin Res. 2011;4:1–8.