Turmeric is a spice containing curcumin, a powerful antioxidant with a long and respected history of medicinal use in India and other eastern countries.
Scientific studies of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, confirm it has much more to offer than the distinctive yellow or gold coloring it imparts to curry dishes. Besides working to rid the body of free radicals caused by oxidation, it has extremely beneficial effects on inflammation. (1)
Curcumin is the most important of the curcuminoids contained in turmeric, but two factors make it difficult to get a significant amount of this spice through diet.
- It occurs in very small amounts at about 3% by volume of turmeric powder (2)
Since medicinal dosages of curcumin usually run at a gram or more daily, eating enough turmeric to get an appreciable amount of curcumin through diet isn’t practical. Purchasing an encapsulated extract to deliver the recommended dosage solves this problem.
- Curcumin isn’t well-absorbed, so extra measures are needed to get the benefits
When taken in combination with piperine, a substance found in black pepper, absorption is enhanced by 2000%. (3) Eating curcumin with a meal containing fats is also helpful since curcumin is fat soluble.
Besides assisting the body with curcumin absorption, piperine (also known as bioperine) boosts uptake of other phytonutrients like lycopene and resveratrol. (4)
Let’s go over the other beneficial effects of the curcumin found in turmeric.
While inflammation itself isn’t a bad thing – it’s actually part of the body’s process for repairing wear and tear, as well as mounting attacks against foreign substances like bacteria or viruses that don’t belong in the system – excessive and chronic inflammation can become problematic.
Chronic inflammation is implicated in a number of serious health disorders, including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, and diseases associated with obesity. (5, 6, 7)
In a clinical trial testing curcumin supplements with rheumatoid arthritis patients, those with the most improvement took curcumin alone; patients using curcumin in combination with an anti-inflammatory drug, as well as those using the pharmaceutical drug on its own, experienced less improvement. (8)
Even with established inflammatory conditions that have developed over a period of years, curcumin can offer as much or more help in normalizing the system as certain anti-inflammatory drugs. (9) When such powerful effects can be realized from a natural substance, avoiding pharmaceutical drugs and the possibility of detrimental side effects is an appealing option. (10, 11)
Being able to head off the development of inflammation on a molecular level is a powerful tool for keeping the body’s tissues in a healthy state. (12, 13, 14) Curcumin accomplishes this by blocking NF-kB, a molecule that enters the cell nuclei and switches on genes associated with inflammation. (15, 16)
The ability to soothe inflammation in early stages could also serve well as a preventative measure.
Antioxidants, Anti-Aging and Protecting Brain Function
We hear a lot about antioxidants, which help reduce damage caused in the body by free radicals; these rogue molecules have unpaired electrons that react with proteins, fatty acids and even DNA, leading to what’s referred to as oxidative damage.
Curcumin acts even more decisively in relation to free radicals than other antioxidants; its chemical structure neutralizes these trouble-makers (17, 18), then goes on to stimulate the body’s ability to produce its own antioxidant enzymes. (19, 20)
Along with Inflammation, oxidative damage is believed to be another factor contributing to the aging process (21), so adding a natural supplement that works to reduce both of these could be a winning two-punch for staying young and healthy.
The prospect of losing brain function as we grow older is a grim thought. Adding turmeric and curcumin to the diet of female rats improved memory (22), and further tests will help determine if the same effect can be achieved with humans.
Curcumin stimulates brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), a growth hormone necessary for creating new brain cells. (23) Since BDNF levels affect the ability of neurons to generate new connections, it may play a role in keeping learning processes humming along, with the added benefit of helping reverse the effect of stress on the brain. (24)
Patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and depression, as well as other brain disorders, statistically register low levels of BDNF. (25)
Curcumin crosses the blood-brain barrier (26) going straight to where it can protect against degeneration of key brain functions , as well as clearing the build-up of beta amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. (27)
Preventing Heart Disease and Cancer
The endothelium cells lining blood vessels affect clotting as well as pressure regulation. (30) Endothelium dysfunction raises the risk of heart disease; curcumin improves endothelium function, positively affecting this vital marker as efficiently as engaging in exercise or taking drugs. (31, 32)
Curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties add more benefits for preventing heart disease; a recent study of heart disease patients indicated even a few days of taking supplements containing curcumin before surgery decreased the chance of a heart attack in the hospital by 65%. (33)
The overgrowth of cells involved with cancer differs greatly between types, but the active ingredient in curcumin appears to be effective in reducing tumor growth, stopping the spread of cancer, and even killing existing cancer cells. (34)
One study followed 44 men with colon lesions known to become cancerous; the curcumin dosage of 4 grams daily for 30 days reduced the amount of lesions present by 40%. (35)
These results show good promise for preventing cancer in the digestive system, and further studies may help determine whether curcumin can help treat or prevent other cancers as well.
Many health-conscious consumers are already using curcumin supplements to address inflammation issues, and a variety of products are available, including combinations with piperine for improved absorption.
Summary: If you’re open to adding a natural supplement that could improve existing health disorders and offer great potential for prevention, turmeric looks like an excellent choice.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17569207 http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ol000173t?journalCode=orlef7