Is Turmeric Dangerous to Take for Arthritis?

Turmeric is a natural TNF inhibitor that experts suggest may suppress the immune system.

In animal studies, turmeric extracts block the TNF-α inflammatory cytokine protein. Similar to pharmaceutical TNF inhibitors, this is one of the ways turmeric reduces the arthritis symptoms caused by inflammation. However, case reviews indicate that TNF inhibitor drugs potentially have dangerous side effects. Some researchers suggest that the same concerns could apply to turmeric since it also inhibits TNF-α. (v.191193)

What is TNF-α?

Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) is a cytokine protein that many cells produce as part of a healthy immune system. It helps regulate activation of immune system cells that help dispose of abnormal precancerous cells as well as bacteria and viruses. However, if the immune system is dysfunctional and too much TNF-α is produced, it can contribute to the development or progression of serious conditions, including: (v.193)

Risks Associated with TNF Inhibitors

TNF-inhibitor drugs (such as infliximab and adalimumab) are prescribed for painful conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. However, drugs that inhibit TNF-α have been linked to increased incidence of serious infections such as sepsis, listeria, and tuberculosis. In patients with Crohn's disease, taking TNF-inhibitors also appears to increase the risk of lymphoma(v.193)

Experts suggest these risks may be because blocking TNF-α also suppresses TNF-α's beneficial role in the immune system. In particular, one of the reactions TNF-α initiates an inflammatory response in the liver that helps seal off and inactivate bacteria - including the type that causes tuberculosis. TNF inhibitors can prevent this process in the liver. (v.191193)

Turmeric Compound Safety

Animal studies indicate that whole turmeric extracts and turmeric essential oils inhibit the inflammatory response in the liver triggered by TNF-α which can inactivate TB bacteria. However, in animal studies, curcumin from turmeric did not suppress granuloma formation in the liver. This suggests curcumin may be a safer, natural alternative arthritis treatment to other TNF inhibitors. (v.191193)

Interestingly, whole turmeric may actually help improve the effectiveness and reduce the toxic side effects of drugs used to treat tuberculosis. In a large clinical trial, turmeric helped prevent liver damage from TB drugs in patients with active tuberculosis, and also improved their antibacterial effects. Lab studies indicate that curcumin also has antibacterial activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the type of bacteria that causes TB. (v.177181-182)

In fact, turmeric and its compounds can help treat many of the conditions caused by excess TNF (such as those mentioned above). They can even help with some of the infections people on TNF inhibitors may be more susceptible to, including listeria and sepsis(v.162239)

Called a granulomatous inflammatory response. (v.191)
Systemic infection and inflammation. (v.18)

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