A natural remedy for sore muscles is hiding in your kitchen

Jul 10, 2014 at 11:30 a.m. ET
Image: Photography By Taren Maroun/Moment Open/Getty Images

My attitude towards exercise used to be: the more, the better. I got so used to having sore, inflamed muscles that the feeling barely even registered.

Seven days a week, I would sweat my way through spin classes, sprint drills, boot camps and weight training exercises — very rarely taking a day off. My aggressive workouts didn’t have any particular intention — I wasn’t trying to lose weight or train for a race. I was simply addicted to the feeling of pushing my body to its absolute max.

Last winter, I went to India and it changed my views on health and fitness in several ways. Leading up to my trip, I had sustained a somewhat serious hip flexor and knee injury. I was told it was due to overtraining, yet I continued to run daily and “work through the pain.” When I got to India, my hip flexor, IT band and knee were so inflamed I could barely walk, let alone run. Only then, did I decide to lay off the sprints and instead try yoga. I was in India, after all.

After watching my grimacing face during a particularly long yin practice, my instructor came over to ask about my injury. She quietly listened to my list of grievances about my various sore and inflamed muscles before offering a bit of unsolicited advice. She told me that inflammation is actually a gift. She explained it’s our body’s way of telling us to take a break, so we can heal and get stronger (if only I had listened!). She told me that my continual, non-stop exercise was actually causing my muscles to break down, rather than get stronger, and urged me to give myself a much-needed rest.

Most athletes and avid gym-goers know the double-edged sword of post-exercise inflammation. You need enough inflammation to trigger the physiological response that makes your body stronger and helps it to recover after a workout, but not so inflamed that it compromises your body’s natural repair process and increases the risk of serious injury. Clearly, I had crossed this fine line. She advised me, first, to lay off the running, but, second, to meet with a local Ayurvedic doctor.

What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest holistic systems, developed thousands of years ago in India. It is based on the belief that good health is dependent on a delicate balance between mind, body and spirit, and that disease and injury are only caused when they are off balance. Ayurveda offers natural remedies for various health and physical ailments. Although I have mixed views on holistic medicines, I thought “when in India...” and met with the Ayurvedic doctor later that week.

Where turmeric comes into play

For my inflamed muscles, she recommended I start incorporating turmeric into my diet. Turmeric is a spice, originally from Chinese and Indian cultures, known not only for its vibrant yellow color and distinct flavor, but also for its medicinal properties to alleviate inflammation in the body.

Research on turmeric supports its use to fight inflammation and provide relief for muscles. Several studies have shown its effectiveness in aiding recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage.

"Turmeric, or Curcuma longa, has been historically used throughout India, China and Indonesia both as a culinary spice and as a medicinal plant,” says Tori Hudson, N.D., adjunct clinical professor at Bastyr University. “Its traditional medicinal uses have been helpful for bruises, sprains and joint inflammation, to name a few.” Today, science has identified compounds in turmeric, curcumins in particular, which support healthy inflammatory function — maintaining overall health and vitality.

For the duration of my time in India, I stuck strictly to yoga and found different ways to incorporate turmeric into my diet each day. I would top it on rice, sprinkle it on vegetables or stir it into stir-fry. There are so many ways to add this powerful antioxidant and anti-carcinogen into to your dish.

Today, I listen to my body when it tells me I need a rest and eat turmeric every time I’ve had a particularly tough workout.

Thank you, India!

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