By Dr. Rachelle Viinberg, BSc, ND
As an Olympic rower, I was no stranger to chronic injuries. With eighteen training sessions per week, some level of pain or discomfort was expected. At best the developing injury is minor. At worst it is a career ender. Three months out of the 2012 Olympics I faced the latter.
Fifteen years of gruelling training and fierce selection won me a spot in the top ranked boat. Then disaster struck. I herniated my L4/L5 disc during weight training just a few days prior to the team announcement. In the past, this same injury sidelined me for an entire year.
I first heard about the powerful anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin (derived from the spice turmeric) during my medical training. However, I knew one of the limitations was absorption. Curcumin is insoluble in water, preventing dissolution of the particles in the aqueous environment of the intestinal tract. Consequently, these large undissolved particles do not pass through the endothelial cells in the intestinal wall and into the blood stream.
Fortunately, absorption technology has come a long way. By binding curcuminoids with phoshatidycholine, an essential component in cell walls, curcuminoids are now able to pass readily through the cell lipid bilayer and reach the blood stream.
With the deleterious effects of Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) in mind, I was completely open to giving high dose curcumin a try. What happened next was nothing short of extraordinary. I started out bed ridden, unable to even dress myself or drive my car. After taking 3 capsules (1.5g) 3-4 times per day, I progressed to being back on the water within three weeks, and fully recovered by five.
Now I don’t want to paint curcumin as magic. I had adjunctive treatment with some of the best chiropractors, physiotherapists and acupuncturists in the country. Yet even the medical team was shocked at my recovery rate, which was a far cry from my previous one year recovery time with the same injury.
Of course with my positive experience, I told many of my team mates that were suffering from chronic tendonitis due to repetitive strain. The mechanics of rowing caused the injury, and taking time off to heal was frowned upon so close to the Olympics. With the help of high dose curcumin many of them were able to bring the pain back to a low grade ache, and to maintain training on the water.
Curcumin does not benefit athletes only when they’re injured. Although a certain amount of inflammation post workout is a good thing and increases an adaptive response, curcumin is extremely effective in resolving delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This was useful when I had to perform the next day, whether it was for team selection or international racing.
My own experience is not an isolated event. There are literally thousands of studies backing up the positive effects of curcumin. Currently I use it to treat patients in my clinical practice with tremendous success for all inflammatory disorders, diabetes, and even depression, as it can pass the blood brain barrier.
Curcumin played a big part in expediting my healing process, thereby getting me to the Olympics to win a medal. It helped my team mates realize their potential, and it helps heal my patients with a high success rate. Magic? Perhaps not. Sound science? Definitely.