I love cooking with turmeric because it adds a brilliant yellow color and pungent taste to so many foods. Plus, its active compound, curcumin, has been extensively studied and displays an impressive list of benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that are important to bone health.
Used in foods, turmeric can deliver a significant amount of curcumin. You may be most familiar with turmeric as a key ingredient in curry powder and other savory dishes. I like to use it whenever I can. Here are some of my favorite recipes using turmeric:
1. Turmeric-spiked ghee
Turmeric is fat-soluble, and in traditional Indian cuisine, it’s generally cooked in ghee (clarified butter) or oil. Heat 1 Tbsp of ghee, add ½ tsp of turmeric powder and lightly sauté it for a few minutes. Store your “turmeric ghee” refrigerated in a jar and use it as a colorful and healthy oil for sautéing vegetables, nuts and seeds.
2. Beautiful yellow rice
Use the same turmeric ghee as nutritious condiment when cooking rice. Put 1 Tbsp turmeric ghee in a saucepan, along with ¼ tsp cumin seeds and a pinch of black pepper and salt. Sauté this spice mix a few moments before adding to the rice cooking water.
3. Turmeric-ginger tea
Bring 2 cups of water to boil in a saucepan. Put in ½ to 1 tsp turmeric powder, 1/4 tsp ginger powder, 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon, and a pinch of pepper. Simmer this for 15 minutes, then let settle, strain, and drink hot or cold with sweetener if desired.
4. Golden milk
In a saucepan, mix and bring to a light boil the following:
- 2 cups of any “milk” you choose (dairy, soy, rice, almond, or ½ almond and ½ coconut milk)
- 1 Tbsp of ground turmeric (feel free to start with less)
- 1 tsp powdered or fresh ginger
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground cardamom
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- 1 Tbsp sweetener (maple syrup, sucanat, etc.)
- Pinch of black pepper
5. Chicken curry salad
- Dress shredded chicken or chopped tofu with a mixture of turmeric, curry powder, cumin, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.
- Add chopped celery or red pepper, raisins, chopped walnuts, minced garlic and a pinch of cayenne pepper and black pepper to taste.
- Drizzle with a bit of lemon or lime juice, and serve over salad greens, rice, or use as a colorful sandwich filling.
More ways to use turmeric powder:
- In deviled eggs or chicken soup
- As a natural coloring for bland foods such as mashed potatoes, rice or quinoa
- Sprinkled on avocado or salads
How much turmeric powder to aim for?
To gain health benefits from the spice, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends taking 1 to 3 grams of dried, powdered turmeric root per day, which is about 1/2 to 11/2 tsp. A small amount of black pepper enhances the bioavailability of curcumin, as does boiling.
With so many ways to use turmeric, no wonder it is one of the most widely used culinary spices worldwide! If you would like to learn more about the benefits of turmeric and curcumin, see my recent blog “New study suggests curcumin helps build bone.”
Are your medications dangerous to your bone health? While we all know that medications have some side effects, we may not recognize that certain medications, especially used long term, can seriously harm your bones.
Let’s look at the 3 most commonly used classes of medications known to increase fracture risk.
Which medications damage bone?
Corticosteroids. This class of drugs interferes with bone formation while simultaneously stimulating bone resorption, thus accelerating bone loss significantly. At one point, scientists estimated that approximately 20% of all osteoporosis in the U.S. was the result of corticosteroid use, and it is estimated that up to 50% of patients using long-term oral corticosteroids will develop bone fractures.
While short-term, very occasional steroid use has less potential to weaken bone, longer-term use of oral and even inhaled steroids clearly jeopardize bone strength and increase fracture risk. Doses as low as 5 mg a day have been shown to increase fracture risk.
It is wise to seek alternatives to steroid therapy, use them when only truly necessary and for the shortest period of time possible, and to fully support your bone health while using them to help offset the drug’s effects.
- Beclomethasone (inhaled)
- Betamethasone (lotion or cream for skin)
- Budesonide (oral capsule, inhaler and nasal spray)
- Ciclesonide (inhaled)
- Cortisone (oral, injection)
- Dexamethasone (oral)
- Ethamethasoneb (oral, injection)
- Flunisolide (inhaled)
- Fluticasone (inhaled)
- Hydrocortisone (spray, liquid, lotion, gel, cream, ointment)
- Methylprednisolone (oral)
- Mometasone (inhaled)
- Prednisolone (oral)
- Prednisone (oral)
- Triamcinolone (oral, injection
Antacids. Proton pump inhibitors such as esomeprazole (Nexium) and lansoprazole (Prevacid) are commonly used antacids. These antacid drugs powerfully reduce the production of stomach hydrochloric acid and thus likely weakened nutrient absorption. Proton pump inhibitors have been repeatedly documented to increase the risk of hip, wrist, and spine fractures.
H2 receptor antagonist drugs like cimetidine (Tagamet) and ranitidine (Zantac) are also used to suppress acid production, which suggests that they might impair nutrient absorption similarly. However, studies have suggested that they do not seem to increase fracture risk as do proton pump inhibitors. One reason may be that they work by blocking the action of histamine — a chemical released in immune responses. Histamine tends to promote bone resorption. So these drugs are less likely, long term, to promote bone loss. Even so, there are studies showing that bone loss occurs in people taking H2 receptor antagonists if they do not have good intake of specific key bone nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D.
Antidepressants. A specific class of antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is associated with a significant increase in fracture risk. One study noted that there are some indicators that the medications have direct effects on bone, but they’re not well determined. However, the impact of SSRIs on balance and alertness are well established.
What it boils down to is this: if you take SSRIs, it’s important to look carefully at your bone health. Even in the absence of a direct effect on bones, falling is the primary cause of fracture in those with weakened bones.
I realize that it’s not always possible to avoid these medications, but there often exist dietary and lifestyle changes and alternative medical approaches that go to the root of the disorder and reduce the need for bone-damaging medications. Also, once you know your medication may harm your bones, you can take steps to protect your skeleton. Plus, by knowing what the medications are, you can talk with your practitioner to determine whether there are less bone-damaging alternatives and support your body’s natural healing processes as much as possible.
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Hodgson SF. Corticosteroid-induced osteoporosis. Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am 1990;19: 95-111.
Jones A, Fay JK, Burr M, et al. Inhaled corticosteroid effects on bone metabolism in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 1, 2006.
Low Dose Steroids Can Increase Fracture Risk. Medsafe, NewZealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety authority, 2017 http://www.medsafe.govt.nz/Profs/PUarticles/bone.htm
Vestergaard P, Rejnmark L, Mosekilde L. Proton pump inhibitors, histamine H2 receptor antagonists, and other antacid medications and the risk of fracture. Calcif Tissue Int. 2006 Aug;79(2):76-83. Epub 2006 Aug 15.
Warden SJ, Fuchs RK. Do Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) Cause Fractures? Curr Osteoporos Rep. 2016 Oct;14(5):211-8. doi: 10.1007/s11914-016-0322-3.
Wiercigroch M, Folwarczna J. [Histamine in regulation of bone remodeling processes]. Postepy Hig Med Dosw (Online). 2013 Aug 26;67:887-95.
Yu EW, Bauer SR, Bain PA, Bauer DC. Proton pump inhibitors and risk of fractures: a meta-analysis of 11 international studies. Am J Med. 2011 Jun; 124(6): 519-526.doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2011.01.007
Yu EW, Blackwell T, Ensrud KE, Hillier TA, Lane NE, Orwoll E, Bauer DC. Acid-suppressive medications and risk of bone loss and fracture in older adults. Calcif Tissue Int. 2008 Oct;83(4):251-9. doi: 10.1007/s00223-008-9170-1. Epub 2008 Sep 24.
Zhou B, Huang Y, Li H, Sun W, Liu J. Proton-pump inhibitors and risk of fractures: an update meta-analysis. Osteoporos Int. 2016 Jan;27(1):339-347.
A recent study shows that use of a new bioavailable derivative of curcumin significantly increased the bone density in the heel, upper jaw and little finger bones in older men. While the study looks at men — more about that below — I think it has some very interesting implications for us all!
What did the study look at?
- The trial population consisted of 57 older Italian men — all between 68 and 73 years old — described by study authors as “reasonably fit” with a BMI below 25.
- All study participants began a standardized bone health management program that included regular exercise, nutritional evaluation and dietary modifications, with particular focus on vitamin D, vitamin C and calcium.
- 29 of them spent 24 weeks supplementing their program with the curcumin supplement, while the remaining 28 did not.
Now, it’s important to note that this is a small, preliminary study, and some of the choices the researchers made limit its usefulness. Men have fewer risk factors for bone loss than women in the same age group, and it’s unclear how “low” the subjects’ bone mass was (relative to their overall body size) to begin with. Plus, given that the individuals were “reasonably fit” Italian seniors (who likely had eaten an alkalizing Mediterranean diet most of their lives), we can infer that their initial risk of osteoporosis and fracture wasn’t high.
The powerful effects of curcumin
But as a starting point, it has some interesting implications. Curcumin has long been known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. And there’s evidence suggesting it inhibits an important biochemical mechanism for osteoclast development know as the RANKL pathway (Bharti et al., 2004) — which is the same process targeted by the powerful bone drug denosumab (Prolia; Hanley et al., 2012).
That’s why it makes sense that a bioavailable curcumin could have such powerful effects to build bone when combined with common-sense healthy diet and exercise habits.
Obviously, the researchers have much more work to do, but I am encouraged to see scientists turning to nature to find the best ways to build bone health!
Bharti AC, Takada Y, Aggarwal BB. Curcumin (diferuloylmethane) inhibits receptor activator of NF-kappa B ligand-induced NF-kappa B activation in osteoclast precursors and suppresses osteoclastogenesis. J Immunol. 2004;172(10):5940–5947.
Hanley DA, Adachi JD, Bell A, Brown V. Denosumab: mechanism of action and clinical outcomes. Int J Clin Pract. 2012 Dec;66(12):1139–1146.
Riva A, Togni S, Giacomelli L, et al. Effects of a cucurmin-based supplementation in asymptomatic subjects with low bone density: A preliminary 24-week supplement study. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Stud. 2017;21:1684–1689.