Pet vet: The potential benefits of curcumin for pets
June 30, 2017
Along with the growing interest in the therapeutic use of herbs (see "Properly selected herbs provide effective therapies," April 28, 2017), an increasing amount of research identifies many of the ways that herbs work at the cell level and outlines their health benefits. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is one of those herbs that has an extensive list of health benefits and has been a focus of intense research.
Turmeric has been used for over 5,000 years as a food spice and as a medicine. This is the herb that gives curry its golden color. In both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, turmeric has been used to treat inflammatory disorders, digestive problems, liver issues, skin diseases and wounds.
The turmeric root is the part of the plant that is used. Curcumin is the compound in turmeric that gives it the yellow color. It was first identified two centuries ago and the chemical structure was defined in 1910. Curcumin is also the compound that has received so much interest for its health benefits. Turmeric root contains a wide range of compounds.
It is estimated that only 2-5 percent of turmeric root is curcumin. This means that it requires large volumes of the root powder to obtain recommended doses of curcumin. In addition, curcumin is poorly absorbed from the intestines and is rapidly eliminated by the liver. This adds to the challenge of achieving and maintaining beneficial levels of curcumin in the body.
A number of approaches have been used to improve the ability to get higher blood and tissue concentrations of curcumin and to maintain those levels long enough to have benefits. First, some curcumin preparations have over 75 percent curcumin. Second, there are products that contain curcumin bound to another compound making a phytosome. Phytosomes can increase the absorption of curcumin 6-10 times over the root or standard, non-bound curcumin. A third strategy is to make turmeric paste, which is a mixture of turmeric, ground black pepper, and coconut or olive oil. The oil may improve the absorption of curcumin and a compound in pepper (piperine) slows the metabolism of curcumin in the liver resulting in an up to 2,000 percent increase in the curcumin in the body.
Curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties that have shown promise for activity against inflammatory diseases, including osteoarthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, colitis and pancreatitis. This anti-inflammatory property is valuable because the source of many chronic diseases is unresolved inflammation (see Chronic inflammation can harm pets' health, Sept. 25, 2016).
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Interestingly, in addition to being valuable for management of inflammatory disease, there appear to be benefits for reducing muscle inflammation caused by exercise. This reduced muscle inflammation can lead to improved range of motion and better muscle function.
Since inflammation plays a role in the development of cancer, curcumin can play a role for cancer patients, especially since curcumin has been shown to have anti-cancer effects in addition to its anti-inflammatory effects. Numerous studies using cell culture show a reduction in cancer cells and also show how the curcumin affects cancer cells. In human clinical trials, curcumin has demonstrated benefits for a range of cancers including colorectal, pancreatic, breast, and lung.
Curcumin products are being used for dogs and cats for management of problems like osteoarthritis, back pain, inflammatory bowel disease, immune disorders, liver and kidney problems and cancer. A number of curcumin products are available for pets, including some phytosome-based products.
While curcumin has been considered safe, even at high doses, there are some cautions. It's important to closely monitor blood glucose levels in diabetic patients and to consider discontinuing curcumin prior to surgery because of the potential for reduced blood clotting.
If you have questions about curcumin for your pet, contact your veterinary herbalist.
Ron Carsten was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. In addition to his doctor of veterinary medicine, he holds a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology and is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and certified canine rehabilitation therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.