Natural anti-inflammatory ingredients such as curcumin and PEA can help athletes preserve performance and properly recover from the rigors of exercise.

Paul Clayton, Paul Clayton

October 3, 2019

5 Min Read
Curcumin and fatty acids for post-workout inflammation management.jpg

Athletes are human, too, and vulnerable to chronic inflammation. Repetitive strain injury, post-exercise pain and stiffness, lowered resilience and mood—all which involve inflammatory stress—can affect performance during and out of season. A severe problem will take an athlete out of competition, and even the milder inflammation in delayed muscle soreness (DOMS) will take them out of contention by reducing performance such as running economy by up to 3%.1

A physiological inflammatory response to training is essential to the development of muscle tone, fitness and growth, but the 21st century food universe has become excessively pro-inflammatory, and unless countered, is inimical to performance on the field or track. The reasons for this are well-known, including the progressive removal from modern processed and ultra-processed foods of such key anti-inflammatory nutrients like omega-3 highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFAs), polyphenols and beta glucans, and prebiotic fibers. This negative configuration is aggravated by the presence in modern foods of high levels of pro-inflammatory factors such as advanced glycation and lipoxidation products (AGEs and ALEs), and an excessive glycemic index.

The overall impact of this inflammatory stress and dysbiosis is responsible at the public health level for the increased frequency and decreased latency of the so-called ‘diseases of civilization.’ Among the sports and athletics communities, this inflammatory nightmare can downgrade stamina, performance and recovery. And after an athlete’s active career is over, the inflammatory cascade can accelerate their decline into illness.

Comprehensive dietary change is indicated, but can be difficult or distasteful; instead, there is a growing interest in nutritional anti-inflammatory ingredients.

The polyphenols in curcumin (Curcuma longa) and the fatty acid amide palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) are generating promising data against inflammation. Given their wide therapeutic indices and different mechanisms of action, these two nutrients make up a very attractive combination in sports and athletics.

Until recently, curcumin’s diverse pharmacology has failed to transfer to clinical results due to its poor bioavailability.2 However, a new curcumin-rich turmeric extract (HydroCurc®, from Pharmako Biotechnologies), developed with patented technology (LipiSperse, from Pharmako Biotechnologies), has been shown to provide the highest bioavailability of curcuminoids into blood plasma (807nm/ml) to date from a single dose, well within the therapeutic range where curcuminoids exert multiple anti-inflammatory effects.3

As with curcumin, PEA has poor bioavailability; however, new delivery systems are improving this limitation and bringing this molecule into a new prominence. A recently developed cold-water dispersible form of PEA (Levagen Plus™, from Gencor) dramatically increases bioavailability, increasing its ability to modulate a key receptor in the development of inflammatory pain.4

These effects were substantiated by a recent clinical study of Levagen Plus in joint pain, which not only showed it to be highly effective in reducing osteoarthritis discomfort of the knee, but also demonstrated a significant up-regulation of the m-TORC pathway.5 This indicates a muscle-building effect, highly relevant to sports and athletic performance.

While there is clearly a degree of overlap between curcumin and PEA pharmacology, there are also differences of the kind that should make anti-inflammatory synergy possible. PEA has shown such synergy with other anti-inflammatory polyphenols, such as in one pre-clinical study showing the combination of PEA with a polyphenol was as or more effective than the prescription anti-inflammatory meloxicam.6

Even more relevant to the sports and athletics community is the recent collaboration between Gencor Pacific and the elite sports teams Gloucester Rugby Football Club and the English Cricket Board (ECB). HydroCurc is being utilized as part of both teams’ daily recovery packs to help manage soreness and any ligament/joint damage, as both rugby and cricket are high-impact sports that can lead to muscle and joint injuries. Players from those teams with any ligament/tendon damage and/or ongoing joint and tendinopathy were asked to take one dose of 450 mg of HydorCurc per day. For those who wanted to manage pain, they took 4x dose of 175 mg Levagen Plus in the morning and 2x pre-bed. Sleep intervention players were dosed with 2x Levagen Plus pre-bed.

Levagen Plus is being utilized by rugby players to help manage pain and inflammation, more specifically for those players with tendinopathy. Furthermore, the findings from this collaboration show supplementation has helped enhance sleep quality of those who suffer from poor sleep patterns due to pain. This is likely due to the active ingredient acting upon the endocannabinoid receptors, promoting relaxation. Most interestingly, the use of Levagen Plus in this intervention reduced the use of NSAIDs by the athletes. There is long-standing evidence that NSAIDS produce adverse effects and cause gastric upsets; thus, Levagen Plus could be an efficacious alternative to help with recovery and enhance performance.

Supplementing with a more natural approach, when it comes to aiding damage caused by chronic inflammation, provides the athlete with both short-term and long-term benefits.

Learn more about unique ingredients to drive sports nutrition formulation from Paul Clayton, Ph.D., during the “Finding New Pathways in Sports Nutrition” summit on Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 9 a.m., at SupplySide West in Las Vegas.

Paul Clayton, Ph.D., is a fellow of the Institute of Food, Brain & Behavior, Oxford, England, and chief scientific advisor to Gencor. He is former chair of the Forum on Food & Health at the Royal Society of Medicine in London. His scientific interests include the etiology (the cause, set of causes, or manner of causation of a disease or condition) and management of chronic inflammation in the body, and the modulation of innate immune function.



1. Marcora, Sm et al. “Effect of Exercise‐Induced Muscle Damage on Endurance Running Performance in Humans.” Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2007 Dec;17(6):662-71.

2. Ghosh S et al. “The beneficial role of curcumin on inflammation, diabetes and neurodegenerative disease: A recent update.” Food Chem Toxicol. 2015 Sep;83:111-24.

3. Henrotin Y et al. “Curcumin: a new paradigm and therapeutic opportunity for the treatment of osteoarthritis.” SpringerPress 2013; 2: 56.

4. Aldossary SA et al. “The role of transient receptor potential vanilloid receptor 1 and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors-α in mediating the antinociceptive effects of palmitoylethanolamine in rats.” Neuroreport. 2019 Jan 2;30(1):32-37.

5. Steels E et al. “A double-blind randomized placebo controlled study assessing safety, tolerability and efficacy of palmitoylethanolamide for symptoms of knee osteoarthritis.” Inflammopharmacology. 2019 Jun;27(3):475-485.

6. Britti D et al. “A novel composite formulation of palmitoylethanolamide and quercetin decreases inflammation and relieves pain in inflammatory and osteoarthritic pain models.” BMC Vet Res. 2017 Aug 2;13(1):229.

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