Is Turmeric Good for Inflammation and Muscle Recovery?

Woman taking a turmeric capsule

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Inflammation is a normal but inconvenient part of athletic training. Short-term inflammation inevitably occurs when exercise is performed at high intensities for a long period of time. It is a normal response to intense physical activity. Professional athletes are no strangers to post-workout inflammation and muscle soreness, but even beginners who exert themselves too much can experience the uncomfortable sensation.

Athletes of all experience levels are constantly looking for new ways to reduce inflammation and speed up muscle recovery so they can resume training as quickly as possible. While resting is important after exercise, it’s common for athletes to want to train longer and harder, which simply isn’t possible when your muscles are over-exerted.

When looking for ways to reduce inflammation and expedite recovery, many have turned to antioxidant-rich foods and herbal remedies, such as turmeric supplements. Turmeric has been scientifically linked to many health benefits, including the anti-inflammatory properties that make it a popular choice for people looking to reduce their pain, inflammation, or soreness.

What Is Turmeric?

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a spice that is often referred to as a “superfood” because of its many purported benefits. However, what sets turmeric apart from other so-called superfoods is that it’s been used for centuries and widely studied in scientific journals.

Since it is a spice, turmeric has a distinct flavor. It is often used in Asian dishes. Adding turmeric to your food is one way to consume more of this beneficial plant; you can also take turmeric supplements or shots.

What Does Research Say?

Many of the health benefits of turmeric can be attributed to a compound called curcumin. Curcumin is one of the curcuminoids found in turmeric, which are natural polyphenol compounds that have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Turmeric for Inflammation

Medicinal turmeric use dates back nearly 4,000 years. Though it has been studied for several decades, there has been a spike in research in recent years as the popularity of turmeric as a remedy for inflammation has increased. 

A lot of the research surrounding turmeric has to do with inflammation and its effects on pain, especially joint pain related to chronic health conditions like osteoarthritis.

A 2019 study recommends turmeric as an alternative treatment option for patients with osteoarthritis in the knees who are not tolerant to the side effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The study also noticed that turmeric capsules had similar effectiveness and better tolerance as a prescription drug for inflammation.

A 2017 review published in Foods considered the effects of turmeric on human health, specifically on the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia.

Though many researchers agree that more research is necessary, here is what the existing research says about turmeric as a potential treatment for inflammation and exercise-induced muscle soreness.

Researchers found that the spice can enhance athletic recovery by reducing exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness. To maximize the anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric, combining it with enhancing agents, such as piperine found in black pepper. This has been shown to increase bioavailability by 2,000 percent.

As previously mentioned, the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric are largely attributed to its curcumin content. This chemical has been studied as a potential treatment for pro-inflammatory diseases, such as cancer and inflammatory bowel disease, though more clinical trials are warranted.

Turmeric for Muscle Recovery

Intense exercise can cause fatigue, muscle damage, and a decrease in performance. After an intense workout, rest and proper nutrition are vital to refuel and recover.

There are many foods, drinks, supplements, and products that athletes turn to for a speedy recovery—turmeric is one of them. Curcumin in turmeric has been studied in supplement on rodents to determine its effects on performance and muscle recovery.

In a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, researchers investigated the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin related to the exercise-induced damages experienced by mice running downhill. The results of the study confirmed that curcumin hastened the recovery of running performance.

According to a 2020 study conducted on mice, there is a lack of available treatment options for muscle recovery. In response to this, researchers studied the effects of curcumin on inflammation and skeletal mass regeneration. They found that curcumin may potentially accelerate muscle recovery in mice.

However, these studies were performed on mice. More research is needed to confirm the findings and determine if they are applicable to humans.

A Word From Verywell

Turmeric is a flavorful spice that can be added to savory dishes or taken by capsule. Since it’s associated with anti-inflammatory properties, it may be a suitable choice for athletes looking to speed their recovery after a grueling workout. But eating a small amount of turmeric in food from an unknown source is not likely to show any clinical effects. Most research has been conducted using supplements that include measurable curcumin that hasn't been exposed to air or a warm kitchen spice cabinet where potency can be significantly reduced.

And remember that proper rest shouldn’t be replaced with supplements, foods, or spices. Taking a rest day promotes muscle recovery and prevents overtraining. While turmeric has many health benefits, it is one of many aspects that contribute to overall health.

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