An international team of researchers has shown a derivative
of a common culinary spice found in Indian curries could offer a new treatment
hope for sufferers of the painful condition tendinitis.
In a paper to be published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the researchers at the University
of Nottingham and Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich have shown that
curcumin, which also gives the spice turmeric its trademark bright yellow coloring,
can be used to suppress biological mechanisms that spark inflammation in tendon
Ali Mobasheri of the University’s School of Veterinary
Medicine and Science, who co-led the research,
says: “Our research is not suggesting that curry, turmeric, or curcumin are
cures for inflammatory conditions such as tendinitis and arthritis. However, we
believe that it could offer scientists an important new lead in the treatment
of these painful conditions through nutrition. Further research into curcumin,
and chemically modified versions of it, should be the subject of future
investigations and complementary therapies aimed at reducing the use of
non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, the only drugs currently available for
the treatment of tendinitis and various forms of arthritis.”
Tendons are essential for movement because they transfer the
force of muscle contraction to bones. However, they are prone to injury,
particularly in athletes who may overstretch themselves and overuse their
joints. Tendinitis (or tendonitis) is a form of tendon inflammation, which
causes pain and tenderness near to joints and is particularly common in
shoulders, elbows, knees, hips, heels, or wrists. Other examples of common
tendon disease include tennis and golfer’s elbow and Achilles tendinitis.
The global incidence of tendinitis is on the increase in
line with the rise in ageing and inflammatory diseases. It is also linked to
other arthritic and rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or metabolic
diseases such as diabetes.
The only treatment is to relieve pain and reduce
inflammation and the only medicines which are effective in treating tendinitis
are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
In more serious cases of tendon injury, steroid injections can be given
directly into the tendon sheath to control pain and enable physical therapy to
However, NSAIDS and steroids are associated with undesired
side effects including stomach ulcers, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, headache,
diarrhoea, constipation, drowsiness, and fatigue. Consequently, there is an
acute need for new treatments with fewer debilitating side effects.
This latest research centers on curcumin, a key ingredient
of the spice turmeric, which has been used for centuries in traditional Indian
or ‘Ayurvedic’ medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent and remedy for symptoms
related to irritable bowel syndrome and other disorders.
More recently, studies have linked curcumin to potential
uses in treating arthritis and a range of rheumatic diseases and, potentially,
even as an agent to kill cancer cells directly or make them more sensitive to
killing by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
The Nottingham-Munich study used a culture model of human
tendon inflammation to study the anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin on
tendon cells. The main objective of the study was to observe the effects that
curcumin had on the inflammatory and degenerative properties induced by signaling
molecules called interleukins. Interleukins are a type of small cell-signaling
protein molecules called cytokines that can activate a whole series of
inflammatory genes by triggering a dangerous ‘switch’ called NF-?B.
The results showed that introducing curcumin in the culture
system inhibits NF-?B and prevents it from switching on and promoting further
The results follow on from another study by the
Nottingham-Munich collaboration, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry earlier this year, demonstrating
that a compound found in red wine could have therapeutic potential for
osteoporosis related bone loss in elderly patients, post-menopausal women, and
patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
The research found that resveratrol, a naturally occurring
phytoestrogen found in the skin of red grapes, vines and various other fruits
and nuts, inhibits inflammation in bone cells. Its effects extended to
inhibiting the formation of osteoclasts, giant congregations of blood-derived
cells responsible for bone degeneration, especially in osteoporosis in later
life. Resveratrol prevented NF-?B from switching on to trigger inflammation.
The results suggest that resveratrol plays a pivotal role in
regulating the balance between the formation of new bone and bone loss, which
can lead to weak or brittle bones.
The findings are an important step in the search for new
drugs to treat conditions such as osteoporosis, which are currently treated
using medications including calcium and vitamin D supplements and a class of
drugs known as bisphosphonates. Post-menopausal women can also benefit from
hormone replacement therapy (HRT), however, it is associated with a large
number of side-effects ranging from headaches to behavioral changes and acne
and long-term use can increase the risk of developing uterine cancer.