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In this third and final installment on curcumin in HALO, Dr. Bucci breaks down the effects the compound has on exercising bodies by explaining how curcumin does what it does for athletes – and why it’s important.
He begins by summarizing how curcumin works and then looking at some very high-level details from the clinical research. He’s also written three additional sections to explain why inflammation – though natural and often desirable – is not always a positive, why connective tissues are especially vulnerable, and why First Endurance uses very specific sourcing and ratios of curcumin and curcuminoids.
Editor’s note: As always when writing about HALO, we may use the words “curcumin” and “curcuminoids” interchangeably. The latter is more accurate (HALO’s curcumin content actually comprises three different curcuminoid compounds), but referring simply to “curcumin” is often, well, simpler.
CURCUMIN & THE ENDURANCE ATHLETE
Controlled human clinical studies on endurance athletes show that curcumin is among the most promising plant compounds for tissue health; however, as anyone paying attention to marketing hyperbole knows, claims of how curcumin affects bodies are typically vague, generalized, unsupported, and couched in language better suited to “holistic” health fads than cellular functions, biological processes, and clear-cut statements about those benefits.
Let’s correct those tendencies now!
HOW CURCUMIN WORKS: THE SUMMARY
Curcumin benefits connective tissues by balancing the normal, everyday process of inflammation to prevent it from getting out of control. In relation to long-term endurance exercise, inflammation starts the process of rebuilding and repairing cells, blood vessels, joints, etc., when they are damaged by training (or over-training).
By balancing your body’s emergency response to damage (read: inflammation), curcumin expedites recovery and reduces the long-term effects of chronic inflammation and overtraining, especially on vulnerable connective tissues. Less muscle soreness, less loss of muscular strength or performance, faster recovery, and often reduced biomarkers of muscle damage, systemic inflammation, and oxidation – all demonstrated with clinical studies.
Essentially, the body is spending less time in panic inflammation mode, transitioning into recovery and repair mode faster.
HOW CURCUMIN WORKS: THE DETAILS
Almost every curcumin study I reviewed (22/26 clinical studies) found anti-inflammatory effects following exercise; every relevant study (12/12) found effects leading to faster recovery. Examining that research offers some explanation as to why.
A common element is that curcumin affects certain immune system biomarkers – like signaling proteins (cytokines) and mRNA – that are responsible for initiating inflammatory actions. The process is of course more complicated than can easily be summarized here, but these biomarkers serve as the immune system’s first responders, rolling up into damaged areas to clean up the disaster area to prepare for the repair process. At the outset, this process causes the inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness that we are all familiar with.
In very short, simple terms, curcumin’s effect on these biomarkers balances against over-inflammation caused by the extreme stress of endurance training, accelerating tissue recovery in relation to stress and damage caused by endurance exercise and shortening periods of exercise-induced soreness and inflammation. It has a similar effect on long-term pain and discomfort, especially in connective tissues that don’t recover and repair as fast as muscle and bone and are therefore more vulnerable to chronic issues associated with overtraining.
INFLAMMATION IN MODERATION
Exercise-induced inflammation is beneficial, but it can create issues if it is allowed to run rampant. This is a major concern during long-term exercise, when your connective tissues are under constant mechanical and physical stress with a corresponding constant inflammatory response. Chronic injuries, lingering discomfort, loss of function – all symptoms of overtraining that can be caused by imbalanced inflammation keeping connective tissues in an emergency response state without transitioning efficiently into a rebuild and repair state.
For endurance athletes, balancing your body’s inflammatory response to exercise means more protection against overtraining, faster recovery from soreness, and less chronic joint and connective tissue pain. Curcumin does provide other benefits – including immune support, liver health, mental acuity, and blood flow – but the anti-inflammatory benefits for connective tissues are critical for endurance athletes. They are also often ignored by supplement and nutrition systems, making HALO a unique solution to one of endurance training’s most common problems: lingering, debilitating connective tissue discomfort.
CONNECTIVE TISSUES & EVOLVED VULNERABILITY
Throughout much of this blog, I’ve been focused on connective tissues. That’s because they’re evolved for simplicity in order to reduce the risk of something going wrong, but that evolution also slows their ability to repair and adapt compared to tissues like muscle and bone. They are vulnerable to the stresses of endurance training, but they are also critical to maintaining performance over long periods.
We think of joints as locations, like knee or ankle; however, when they are sore from overexertion, there are multiple connective tissues involved, including tendons, ligaments, cartilage, synovial (joint) linings, bursa, periosteum, and bone. And each muscle has connective tissues inside of itself – basal lamina, epimysium, endomysium, sheaths – that shape and hold your muscles, nerves, and blood vessels in working order. Immune system cells, blood vessels, and nerves are always hanging in and around connective tissues, too.
Though they sound complicated and overbuilt, connective tissues have actually evolved to withstand stress by trending towards simplicity, omitting certain structures that may be more vulnerable to damage and therefore compromise mobility. Unlike muscles, connective tissues in joints are locked into their shape and have fewer cells. Some are also inside articular joints, where there are no blood or lymphatic vessels.
Those omissions mean connective tissues have a harder time recovering from exercise-induced microdamage. They do have robust maintenance and repair processes constantly ongoing, but at a much slower rate than other bodily structures – they can take twice as long to normalize (or heal) compared to bones, for example, and that period is even longer if structural damage is constant, as in overuse injuries common in endurance athletes.
Given all of these factors, connective tissues and joints are unsurprisingly adversely affected by the delayed onset soreness and exercise-induced inflammation of endurance training. Prolonged periods of overbearing inflammation hit connective tissues harder than other tissues because they take longer to move beyond the emergency response phase of inflammation to the rebuilding and recovery phase that follows. Eventually, you are looking at chronic overuse injuries and nagging connective tissue pain.
CURCUMIN BACKGROUND & SOURCING
Finally, I want to include a note about curcumin vs. curcuminoids and explain why we source the curcuminoids that we do. Many companies are doing curcumin, but research-driven sourcing and ratios are a main reason why First Endurance is doing curcumin right.
HALO’s curcumin content is actually three closely related polyphenols: curcumin, demethoxycurcumin (DMC), and bisdemethoxycurcumin (BDMC). All three of these curcuminoids occur naturally in turmeric (Curcuma longa) roots and rhizomes, and they constitute about 2-5% of turmeric root powder. For HALO, we use an ethanol-water extract of turmeric roots to boost that number to 95%.
Turmeric curcuminoids are typically 60-70% curcumin, with lesser amounts of DMC (20-27%) and BDMC (10-15%). Thus, 1,000mg of the 95% extract in HALO comprises 570-665mg of curcumin, 190-257mg of DMC, and 95-143mg of BDMC.
Both DMC and BDMC show equivalent or greater actions as curcumin, so mixed curcuminoids are more than comparable to 95% or 100% curcumin (without the other two compounds) for biological actions. Because of that, we prefer to use the natural forms and ratios of curcuminoids as found in turmeric root rather than isolate curcumin by itself, which is more common among other supplements. With all three curcuminoids, the natural form simply has a higher ceiling of effectiveness, which less us actually use less while still improving the measurable benefits. We went with how human bodies work, not how to force more compounds into the body against how our bodies work.
In his first curcumin blog installment, Dr. Bucci laid out the clinical research proving curcumin’s potential.
In his second installment, he explained why taking curcumin supplements doesn’t always produce the benefits that clinical lab results suggested it should – as well as how HALO’s patent-pending formula solves the underlying issue.