By: Marlene Affeld ~ Curcumin, the active part of the turmeric plant, is used as a seasoning in curries and other spicy dishes from the Middle East, Asia, and India. Curcumin (Curcuma longa) is what gives curry its distinctive bright yellow-orange color and unique spicy flavor.
Although many people use this spice in cooking, most people are unaware of the amazing natural health and healing benefits of curcumin. Curcumin, a bioactive substance that has antioxidant properties that are nearly ten times stronger than vitamins C and E, boosts immunity, reduces chronic inflammation at the molecular level, normalize cholesterol levels and prevents premature aging.
History of Curcumin
CurcuminForHealth.com tells the story of curcumin, noting, “The history of curcumin – considered one of the most beneficial compounds from turmeric (Curcuma longa) dates back about 5,000 years. It was a principal healing agent in Ayurveda, and traditional Indian system of medicine, and recognized as a valuable ingredient long before it became popular as a supplement.
The bright yellow-orange pigment of turmeric is the primary source curcumin. Breaking this down further, there are sub-compounds or “fractions” of curcumin called “curcuminoids.” Turmeric contains demothoxycurcumin, otherwise known as “curcumin II”, bisdemethoxycurcumin, known as “curcumin III” and cyclocurcumin. These compounds make up, on an average, about 3 to 5 percent of turmeric, although some in some regions of India, the turmeric actually contains higher levels, reaching 6 to 8 percent because of locally favorable growing conditions and farming practices.
The curcumin products you’re likely to find in health food stores contain a mixture of curcuminoids, depending on the way they’ve been processed.
Turmeric is typically grown in warmer regions, including India, China, and Southeast Asia. The brightly colored complex of curcumin (well-known to anyone who has eaten curry) is sometimes referred to as Indian saffron, yellow ginger, yellow root, ukon, kacha haldi, or simply natural yellow.
After the roots are harvested, they are cleaned in water, cured and dried. After drying the root is ground for use as a spice, or the curcumin is extracted to be used for its health benefits.
These days, most people probably know curcumin by enjoying curry made with turmeric. The fat content of coconut milk and other ingredients in traditional Indian cooking help curcumin absorb in the digestive tract, so growing up eating curry very likely has some protective and medicinal effect. However, there is increasing research that shows that concentrated extracts of curcumin are very strong as well – plus, they have the benefit of being convenient and proven effective!”
Found within the turmeric root, and the powder made from the root that is used in cooking are active phenolic compounds called curcumeroids. Curcumin is one among the three curcuminoids found in turmeric. The key benefits of curcumeroids are that they soothe stomach pain, stimulate the secretion of bile, eases inflammation, and kill bacteria.
Anti-Inflammatory Properties Of Curcumin
Curcumin is the most potent anti-inflammatory of the three curcumeroids found in the Asian tuber. The significant anti-inflammatory properties make curcumin an effective anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical for chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and inflammatory bowel disease; all without the dangerous and unpleasant side effects of many other prescription medications.
A recent research study among patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis showed that patients taking up to 1.7 grams of curcumin a day for two months reduced bowel symptoms and the need for other medications.
ArthritisToday.org reports, “Traditionally used in Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat arthritis turmeric/curcumin blocks inflammatory cytokines and enzymes, including cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), the target of celecoxib (Celebrex).
Several recent studies show that turmeric/curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties and modifies immune system responses. A 2006 study showed turmeric was more effective at preventing joint inflammation than reducing joint inflammation.
A 2010 clinical trial found that a turmeric supplement called Meriva (standardized to 75 percent curcumin combined with phosphatidylcholine) provided long-term improvement in pain and function in 100 patients with knee OA. In a small 2012 pilot study, a curcumin product called BCM-95 reduced joint pain and swelling in patients with active RA better than diclofenac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).”
Curcumin Is A Natural Antiseptic
Curcumin is a natural antiseptic and disinfectant in case of cuts, scrapes, bruises or wounds. Curcumin helps in reducing germs and bacteria, and in healing wounds faster.
Curcumin and Cancer
Researchers now report that this member of the ginger family is capable of fighting cancer cell growth. Many healthcare providers suggest that if taken on a regular basis, either as a spice in your daily diet or as an oral supplement, turmeric can eliminate cancer from the body. Turmeric’s power in treating cancer lies with the presence of polyphenols, phytochemicals, anti-carcinogens, and antioxidants.
Dr. Meracola discusses the benefits of curcumin, noting curcumin:
- Inhibits the transformation of cells from normal to tumor
- Inhibits the synthesis of a protein thought to be instrumental in tumor formation
- Helps prevent the development of additional blood supply necessary for cancer cell growth (angiogenesis)
- Helps your body destroy mutated cancer cells so they cannot spread throughout your body
The American Cancer Society notes, “Some proponents believe turmeric may prevent and slow the growth of a number of types of cancer, particularly tumors of the esophagus, mouth, intestines, stomach, breast, and skin.
Animal and laboratory studies have found that curcumin, an antioxidant that is an active ingredient in turmeric, demonstrated some anti-cancer effects in the lab. But human research is needed to determine curcumin’s role in cancer prevention and treatment in people. Several types of cancer cells are inhibited by curcumin in the laboratory, and curcumin slows the growth and spread of some cancers in some animal studies. Clinical trials are underway to find out if it can help humans as well.
Curcumin is being studied to find out whether it helps other diseases such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and stomach ulcers. It is also being studied to see whether it can help lower “bad cholesterol” and improve outcome in kidney transplants. A few early studies have been done in humans, but much more human research is still needed to find out if curcumin can be effective in these uses.”
NaturalNews.com reports on the interaction of curcumin and cancer, noting, “Research done by the Life Extension Foundation found that curcuminoids target ten factors involved in cancer development. This includes chronic inflammation, DNA damage, and disruption of cell signaling pathways. Curcumin supplementation was shown to destroy cancer cell mitochondria, disrupt the cancer cell cycle and arrest stem cell development that facilitates further cancer cell formation.
Curcumin regulates tumor suppressor pathways and triggers mitochondria-mediated death in the cancer tissue. Curcumin is anti-angiogenic, which means that it shuts down the ability of cancer cells to form new blood vessels for blood supply and fuel. This effect makes cancer cells more vulnerable to pharmacological treatments such as chemotherapy and other cancer-control drugs.”
Studies show that curcumin can also help prevent breast cancer in women at high risk from taking hormone replacement therapy. Scientists at the University of Missouri studied the pungent spice in mice, finding it inhibited a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) known to promote and support hormone-related tumors and other types of cancer. Curcumin also helped reduce changes in breast tissue linked to cancer.
Researchers in Texas confirmed that curcumin increased the effects of Taxol (a chemotherapy drug) and prevented breast cancer development in the lungs of mice. This same sensitizing effect is seen in other types of cancer including pancreatic, colon, gastric, blood, prostate, lung, bladder, head and neck, brain cancer, cervical cancer, multiple myeloma, leukemia, and lymphoma.
Most recently, a research study from Zhejiang Provincial People’s Hospital in Zheijiang, China indicates that curcumin is capable of inducing apoptosis (cell death) within triple negative breast cancer cells. Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a type of cancer that defies conventional therapy.
Turmeric and Diabetes
2012 research studies conducted amongst persons with pre-diabetes found that curcumin delayed the onset of Type 2 diabetes. The study, conducted over a nine-month period, provided participants with either curcumin supplements or a placebo. At the end of the test period, 16 patients taking the placebo were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. None of the participants taking curcumin developed diabetes. The study results were attributed to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin.
Cardiovascular Disease and Curcumin
Curcumin offers protection from heart attack and stroke, making beneficial for people with diabetes who are at high risk for cardiovascular disease. Scientists have discovered that curcumin found in turmeric, dissolves plaque that clogs arteries. When arteries clog, the heart is required to work overtime to deliver adequate blood to the organs. This activity leads to high blood pressure and may also cause enlarging and weakening of the heart. As a powerful antioxidant, curcumin supports healthy cholesterol levels.
ZipHeal.com reports on the health benefits of curcumin, noting, “Another one of turmeric health benefits is its capacity to improve cardiovascular health. Curcumin can stop the oxidation of cholesterol that results in cholesterol buildup on the walls of blood vessels and the consequent clogging of these vessels. This action of curcumin prevents strokes and heart attacks. Further, turmeric also supplies vitamin B6 to the body. This vitamin protects against the damage-causing substance homocysteine.”
Curcumin and Liver Disease
A research study recently conducted in Mexico showed that curcumin prevents acute liver damage through at least two mechanisms: its work as an antioxidant and by inhibiting NF-kappa-B activation and thus slowing down the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
A second study published in the Fundamental and Clinical Pharmacology Journal noted that curcumin is effective in preventing and reversing cirrhosis of the liver, likely by its ability to reduce TGF-beta expression. This data indicates that curcumin might be an effective antifibrotic and fibrolytic drugs in the treatment of chronic hepatic disease.
Among curcumin’s numerous benefits is its ability to function as a natural detox agent, thus clearing the liver of harmful toxins. Among these, it also protects the liver from the toxicity of excess alcohol consumption, chemicals, and certain medications.
NaturalNews.com reports on the powerful health benefits curcumin as an antioxidant, stating, “Turmeric is the fourth most antioxidant-rich herb with an Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of 159,277. The curcuminoids boost levels of the body’s most potent antioxidants including glutathione, superoxide dismutase, and catalase. These molecules are critical for the body to limit oxidative stress-related damage to the vital organ systems.”
Curcumin and Weight Loss
Curcumin has been shown to reduce the incidence of obesity-related diseases. Much of the inflammation associated with obesity is a result in part to the presence of immune cells known macrophages present in fat throughout the body. The immune cells produce cytokines that promote inflammation in the heart, pancreas and liver. Scientific studies indicate that turmeric suppresses the activity and number of these cells thereby reducing some of the adverse consequences of obesity.
Curcumin promotes weight loss and the resulting incidence of obesity-related disease by stimulating the production of bile that breaks down fatty food. Taking one teaspoon of turmeric powder with each meal has been shown to help in losing weight.
PhysicanNaturals.com comments on how curcumin helps digestive problems, stating, “Those who are prone to the problems of severe indigestion may benefit from taking curcumin on a daily basis. It helps in increasing the bile production, thereby curing such problems completely.”
Curcumin and Alzheimer’s disease
FitLife.tv reports, “Curcumin in turmeric has a potential role in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published in the Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology. Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by progressive cognitive deterioration together with declining activities of daily living and behavioral changes. Various effects of curcumin, such as decreased Beta-amyloid plaques, delayed degradation of neurons, metal-chelation, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant property, improve overall memory in Alzheimer’s patients.”
Curcumin and Depression
GreenMedInfo.com announces, “A groundbreaking new clinical study proves that the turmeric extract known as curcumin is at least as effective as Prozac in treating serious depression. When one factors in the lack of side effects associated with the use of curcumin, it is not unreasonable to call the spice extract superior.”
A recently published study judged the antidepressant potential of the extract compared to prescription drugs. In this study, curcumin was compared to fluoxetine (one brand name is Prozac®) and imipramine (one brand name is Tofranil) in a scientific model of depression.5 It was also studied as an “add on” therapy with these commonly prescribed drugs.
Seven groups in total were tested, with one untreated group serving as a control, and others either with two different dosage levels of curcumin only, each prescription drug only, or each prescription drug paired with curcumin as an “add on” therapy.
The results in the curcumin groups were impressive. The high-absorption curcumin extract was just as effective as alleviating symptoms of depression as either prescription drug, but had none of the side effects (which include drowsiness and sedation, and some loss of motor skills).
In fact, the side effects are so strong that curcumin was unable to curb them when it was combined in treatment with the drugs.”
Curcumin and Hair Loss
The active ingredient curcumin is a powerful antioxidant proven to be effective in fighting what is known as TGF-beta one, one of the main known causes of hair loss. A helpful remedy for hair loss is made from a tablespoon of turmeric added to a tablespoon of honey and ¼ cup plain yogurt. Massage the mixture into the hair. Leave the mixture on the hair for 20 to 30 minutes, and then rinse out.
Curcumin and Hepatitis B Virus
According to a study published in the June 2010 issue of FEBS Letters, curcumin, the potent property found in turmeric, can inhibit the growth of hepatitis B Virus by regulating and decreasing the proteins responsible for the multiplication of the nasty virus.
Curcumin Can Help Ease Cystic Fibrosis
Research studies now confirm that curcumin, the active agent in turmeric, is one of the most promising cures against cystic fibrosis, a severe form of respiratory infection. Although preliminary results are still inconclusive, a number of persons suffering from cystic fibrosis report a positive improvement in their symptoms after using turmeric on a regular basis.
Adding Curcumin To Your Daily Diet
There is no doubt about it. Curcumin is a powerful nutrient. Turmeric can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in sauces, curries, stews and soups. To achieve optimal curcumin absorption, since curcumin is a fat-soluble nutrient, it is important to combine turmeric with good fats such as olive oil, coconut oil or milk. Adding a dash of black pepper for the piperine molecule enhances curcumin uptake. Adding black pepper to turmeric increases the absorption of curcumin by nearly 200 percent. You can also find fermented turmeric in an organic acid base at health food stores. Fermented turmeric has an extraordinarily high absorption rate. Turmeric, as a whole herb, remains in the digestive tract longer than curcumin, releasing antioxidant curcumin along with other beneficial substances.
Medical practitioners recommend turmeric supplements. However, turmeric is more effective than isolated curcumin for most inflammatory disorders including arthritis, tendonitis, carpel tunnel syndrome and autoimmune conditions. Take 400 to 600 milligrams of turmeric extracts, either in tablet or capsule form, three times per day or as directed by your physician. Seek products standardized for 95 percent curcumoids.
Because neither curcumin nor turmeric taken orally is well absorbed unless taken with black pepper or piperine, make sure that the one you choose contains black pepper extract or piperine. Be patient when taking turmeric supplements: the full benefits may not be apparent for eight weeks.
Cautions and Concerns
Whenever you add a new supplement to your diet, it is important to discuss the change with your healthcare provider. Curcumin can interfere with the functioning or metabolism of anticoagulants such as clopidogrel, Warfarin, and aspirin. While turmeric is known to decrease blood sugar levels (hypoglycemic effect) that may prove beneficial to persons at high risk of developing diabetes, it should not be used by known diabetics using hypoglycemic medication.
Turmeric may inhibit platelet aggregation. Persons with a tendency to bleeding or clotting should not take curcumin except under the advice of a physician.
Curcumin Research Studies
Phytother Res. 2012 Nov;26 (11):1719-25. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4639. E-pub 2012 Mar 9.
A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis.
Chandran B1, Goel A.
“Curcumin is known to possess potent anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties. This pilot clinical study evaluated the safety and effectiveness of curcumin alone, and in combination with diclofenac sodium in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Forty-five patients diagnosed with RA were randomized into three groups with patients receiving curcumin (500 mg) and diclofenac sodium (50 mg) alone or their combination. The primary endpoints were a reduction in Disease Activity Score (DAS) 28. The secondary endpoints included American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria for reduction in tenderness and swelling of joint scores. Patients in all three treatment groups showed statistically significant changes in their DAS scores. Interestingly, the curcumin group showed the highest percentage of improvement in overall DAS and ACR scores (ACR 20, 50 and 70) and these scores were significantly better than the patients in the diclofenac sodium group. More importantly, curcumin treatment was found to be safe and did not relate with any adverse events.”
By: Marlene Affeld