New evidence is challenging the old concept of joint disorders being divided into either inflammatory (rheumatoid arthritis) or degenerative (osteoarthritis) diseases. It now appears that the difference between the two disorders is only a matter of degree and rapidity of onset — but both are inflammatory. That means anti-inflammatory treatments should and do benefit both types of disorders.
Traditional medications used to treat joint diseases — such as NSAIDs (ibuprofen), glucocorticoids, sulfasalazine, and etanercept — all have significant complications, some of which are deadly. Because a great number of natural compounds have been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, as well as reducing tissue swelling, joint destruction, and pain — and are much safer — researchers have for some time been looking at natural compounds (especially used in combination) as a way to treat joint diseases without the dangerous side effects.
Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that affects joints and connective tissues, is characterized by high levels of inflammatory cytokines (TNF-α, IL1ß and IL-6), high concentrations of inflammatory enzymes (COX-2 and 5-LOX), and high levels of destructive enzymes and adhesion factors (MMP-3 and MMP-9). These products of inflammation not only cause pain and swelling, they also destroy the effected joint and surrounding tissues.
All of these harmful products are controlled by a transcription factor called NF-κB. The key is to find natural compounds that suppress this transcription factor.
For example, curcumin is a very powerful anti-inflammatory compound with a high degree of safety. It also powerfully suppresses NF-κB. Studies have shown that curcumin suppresses the destructive enzymes MMP-3 and MMP-9, as well as restraining the COX-2 inflammatory enzyme in human cartilage.
In animal models of severe rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin significantly prevented joint inflammation when it was taken before the inflammation began, but was less effective once the inflammation presented itself.
The major problem in such studies, especially human studies, is that curcumin is poorly absorbed when it is taken orally. Newer forms of curcumin — especially nano-curcumin — allow the highest absorption and tissue penetration of any curcumin-based product.
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