Turmeric—an herb commonly used in curry powders, mustards, and cheeses—may protect bones against osteoporosis, according to a recent laboratory study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Osteoporosis is a bone disease that can lead to an increased risk of fractures. The condition is common in postmenopausal women. This study, which used an animal (rat) model of post-menopausal osteoporosis, builds on previous laboratory research examining turmeric's anti-arthritic properties.
Funded in part by NCCAM, the study tested two turmeric extracts containing different amounts of curcuminoids—(components of the herb) in female rats whose ovaries had been surgically removed (ovariectomy—a procedure that causes changes associated with menopause, including bone loss). Researchers injected rats with enriched turmeric extract (94‑percent curcuminoids by weight) or non-enriched turmeric extract (41‑percent curcuminoids), at a dose of 60 mg/kg three times a week for 2 months. As controls, other rats received placebo injections after either ovariectomy or sham surgery. Tests showed that while non-enriched turmeric extract did not have bone-protective effects, curcuminoid-enriched turmeric extract prevented up to 50 percent of bone loss, and also preserved bone structure and connectivity. Other physiological changes associated with ovariectomy (weight gain and shrinking of the uterus) were unaffected—an indication that the bone-protective effects did not involve an estrogen-based chemical pathway.
The researchers concluded that turmeric may protect bones, but that the effect depends on the amount of curcuminoids present. If the protective effect does not involve estrogen-based pathways, turmeric may offer a safer alternative to menopausal hormone therapy or botanical phytoestrogens (compounds similar to the female hormone estrogen) for bone preservation in menopause. However, the researchers emphasized that clinical research is needed to evaluate the use of turmeric-derived curcuminoid products to guard against osteoporosis in humans.
- Wright LE, Frye JB, Timmermann BN, et al. Protection of trabecular bone in ovariectomized rats by turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) is dependent on extract composition. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2010;58(17):9498–9504.