Turmeric root is prized in Chinese and Indian traditional medicine as a broadly beneficial "tonic” herb.
And scientific research has been swiftly accumulating evidence that it holds strong promise for mood and immune support.
The scientific spotlight falls on turmeric's yellow-orange antioxidant complex, called "curcumin”, which accounts for the root's reputed benefits.
In rodent studies, curcumin cuts their production of pro-inflammatory messenger chemicals (cytokines) and boosts muscle regeneration.
Now, two clinical trials now suggest that curcumin can ease post-exercise muscle soreness, which can be a rather demotivating after-effect of working out.
Spanish-Italian trail finds reduced soreness
The randomized, placebo-controlled, single-blind pilot trial comes from Spain's Olympic Training Centre (CAR), the University of Barcelona, and an Italian University.
They recruited 20 moderately active men and assigned them to one of two twice-daily regimens:
  • Placebo capsules
  • Curcumin (200 mg) capsules*
*One of the new, well-absorbed forms of supplemental curcumin: see "Buyer beware", below.
The men took part in a strenuous downhill running exercise, and took their assigned capsules two days before and one day after the run.
The curcumin group reported less pain in the lower limbs, compared with subjects in the placebo group, although, as the researchers wrote, "significant differences were observed only for the right and left anterior thighs.” (Drobnic F et al. 2014)
In addition, as they reported, "Increases in markers of muscle damage and inflammation tended to be lower in the curcumin group …” (Drobnic F et al. 2014)
The researchers concluded: "Curcumin has the potential for preventing DOMS [delayed onset muscle soreness], as suggested by its effects on pain intensity and muscle injury.”
The Indena pharmaceutical firm made and supplied the curcumin supplement.
New Zealand trial sees curcumin cutting exercise aches
Another trial comes from a sports medicine clinic in New Zealand, called SportsMed Canterbury.
Seventeen men participated in a well-designed clinical trial: randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, and crossover.
They were assigned them to one of two twice-daily regimens:
  • Placebo capsules
  • Curcumin (2.5 g) capsules*
*Type not disclosed, but probably one of the new, well-absorbed forms of supplemental curcumin: see "Buyer beware", below.
They took their assigned capsules two days before and three days after performing an "eccentric single-leg press” exercise: in other words, single-leg jumps.
After a 14-day "washout" period, they switched regimens and repeated the trial.
The researchers measured the participants' limb pain, muscle swelling, single-leg jump height, and blood markers of muscle damage and inflammation.
One and two days after the harsh exercise, curcumin caused moderate-to-large reductions in pain during various exercises: single-leg squat, gluteal stretch, and squat jump.
The curcumin group also got a small boost in single-leg jump performance, and a reduction in pro-inflammatory messenger chemicals.
As the authors wrote, "Oral curcumin likely reduces pain associated with DOMS [delayed onset muscle soreness] with some evidence for enhanced recovery of muscle performance.” (Nicol LM et al. 2015)
Buyer beware
Standard supplemental curcumin is not well-absorbed, and is probably not worth taking.
Newer, well-absorbed curcumin supplements boost absorption from 100 to 600 percent or more, via either of three techniques:
  • Provide turmeric's volatile oils along with curcumin
  • Add piperine from black pepper to a curcumin supplement
  • Pack curcumin in tiny delivery vehicles such as liposome "envelopes” or nano-sized particles and emulsions.
Adding turmeric's volatile oils yields a 600 percent increase in absorption and may provide added health benefits (Aggarwal BB et al. 2013).
And formulating curcumin with turmeric's own oils is much less costly for curcumin makers and consumers, versus the high-tech alternatives.
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  • Douglass BJ, Clouatre DL. Beyond Yellow Curry: Assessing Commercial Curcumin Absorption Technologies. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015 Apr 9:1-12. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Drobnic F, Riera J, Appendino G, Togni S, Franceschi F, Valle X, Pons A, Tur J. Reduction of delayed onset muscle soreness by a novel curcumin delivery system (Meriva®): a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 Jun 18;11:31. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-11-31. eCollection 2014.
  • Gupta SC, Sung B, Kim JH, Prasad S, Li S, Aggarwal BB. Multitargeting by turmeric, the golden spice: From kitchen to clinic. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2013 Sep;57(9):1510-28. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201100741. Epub 2012 Aug 13. Review.
  • Jäger R, Lowery RP, Calvanese AV, Joy JM, Purpura M, Wilson JM. Comparative absorption of curcumin formulations. Nutr J. 2014 Jan 24;13:11. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-11.
  • Nicol LM, Rowlands DS, Fazakerly R, Kellett J. Curcumin supplementation likely attenuates delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Eur J Appl Physiol. 2015 Mar 21. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Prasad S, Tyagi AK, Aggarwal BB.Recent developments in delivery, bioavailability, absorption and metabolism of curcumin: the golden pigment from golden spice. Cancer Res Treat. 2014 Jan;46(1):2-18. doi: 10.4143/crt.2014.46.1.2. Epub 2014 Jan 15. Review.