Curcumin for sports nutrition? RCT supports role for pain reduction after heavy exercise

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Curcumin for sports nutrition? RCT supports role for pain reduction after heavy exercise

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Supplements of curcumin, the yellow pigment that gives turmeric its color, may reduce pain associated with exercise, and perhaps boost performance, says a new study.

Five grams per day of curcumin were associated with a reduction in pain associated with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), according to scientists from SportsMed Canterbury (New Zealand), Massey University (NZ), the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.

Writing in the European Journal of Applied Physiology​ the researchers also noted that curcumin supplementation was associated with reduced levels of a blood marker for muscle damage, and a suggestion of reduced systemic inflammation.

“These findings provide the first empirical evidence to support the possibility of using curcumin to prevent and combat DOMS associated with heavy exercise,”​ wrote the researchers, led by David Rowlands, PhD, Director of the Exercise Physiology Lab and Metabolic and Microvascular Research Group in the School of Sport and Exercise at Massey University.


Curcumin/turmeric supplements finally tipped over into the mainstream last year. According to a report published in the American Botanical Council’s HerbalGram​, sales of herbal dietary supplements with turmeric/curcumin as the primary ingredient grew by 26.2% in 2013 to take the top spot in the natural channel.

The science has continued to grow, too, with new studies supporting the potential brain, cardiovascular, joint, and muscle benefits of the ingredient.

The new study suggests a role for the ingredient in the booming sports nutrition sector, but more research is needed to support these preliminary results.

“Further research is required to determine the mechanisms of action, to quantify if the effect is great enough to provide short-term worthwhile benefit to performance sports, military and other activity causing skeletal muscle trauma, and to assess curcumin’s effect on females and clinical populations,” ​wrote the researchers.

“Other work should explore the effects of chronic supplementation on training adaptation, to investigate the possibility of attenuated exercise adaptation in sport and clinical populations.”

Study details

Dr Rowlands and his co-workers recruited 17 men to participate in their double-blind randomized-controlled crossover trial. The men were randomly assigned to receive 5 grams per day of curcumin orally or placebo for two days before and three days after a performance tests. This was followed by a two week ‘washout’ period and then men were then crossed over to the other group. The dose was calculated from animal studies and extrapolated to humans.

Results showed that one and two days after exercise that curcumin supplementation was associated with “moderate-large reductions in pain”​ during a variety of exercises, including single-leg squat, gluteal stretch, and squat jump.

“Associated with the pain reduction was a small increase in single-leg jump performance [of 15%],”​ said the researchers.

However, there was a lack of a change in inflammatory status, said Dr Rowlands, which they found surprising. "We may have just missed it or used the wrong markers, or it's working on a different system,"​ he told us.

“Oral curcumin likely reduces pain associated with DOMS with some evidence for enhanced recovery of muscle performance,”​ they wrote.

Future opportunities

Dr Rowlands told us that the researchers produced the supplement themselves, and there were no adverse events reported by the study participants.

The research team does not have any plans at present for further work, but would be interested if a funding opportunity arose to do a dose response study and work with the elderly. "We'd also be interested in evaluating curcumin in real performance situations like a tournament, a cycling tour, or intense training blocks."

Source: European Journal of Applied Physiology
August 2015, Volume 115, Issue 8, pp 1769-1777, doi: 10.1007/s00421-015-3152-6
“Curcumin supplementation likely attenuates delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)”
Authors: L.M. Nicol, D.S. Rowlands, R. Fazakerly, J. Kellett

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