Spotlight on Curcumin: The Golden Ingredient in Turmeric
One of the most researched nutritional supplements, turmeric has been found to give serious protection against inflammation throughout the body and brain. Here are the scientifically-proven facts on why this golden spice is so valuable to mankind…
Active Ingredient of Turmeric
Turmeric is a rhizomatous plant, and a member of the ginger family.
The powdered root of the turmeric plant has been used in Ayurveda, Unani, and Siddha medicines for hundreds of years. It contains bioactive compounds called curcuminoids, the main active ingredient being curcumin (not to be confused with cumin which is a completely different herb). Curcumin is the compound which gives turmeric root its deep golden colour.
It is known for certain that diet and lifestyle play a major role in why certain forms of cancer are more prevalent in some parts of the world but not in others. Research has found that turmeric (curcuma longa), which is regularly included in the diet of the peoples of southeast Asia, is possibly one of the reasons why this continent has a low incidence of most cancers.
Medical science has found overwhelming evidence that curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. As part of an everyday diet, one would need to consume turmeric in generous quantities, and very regularly, to get full benefit from its potential healing and protective qualities.
Additionally, for the body to get maximum absorption of curcumin into the bloodstream, it needs to be taken at the same time as a substance called piperine (also known as bioperine), which is a chemical compound found in black pepper. Piperine is responsible for the pungent aroma and flavour of pepper.
The addition of piperine gives a greatly enhanced absorption of curcumin (by as much as 2000%), so to get full benefit from a supplement, look for a product with not only a high curcumin extract but also with added piperine (black pepper).
Curcumin Against Inflammatory Diseases
Many debilitating diseases are caused by chronic (long-term) inflammation. This happens when the body’s natural defence of creating inflammation to kill invading pathogens turns rogue and begins to attack the body’s healthy cells. The good news is that curcumin is a powerful natural anti-inflammatory, with the power to help fight off pathogens leading to these diseases.
Here are some examples of inflammation-triggered diseases which have been found to respond well to treatment with curcumin:
- Heart disease – due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin has been found to give protection against atherosclerosis (clogged arteries). This condition is one of the main risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Findings from a double-blind, placebo-based study suggest that supplementation of 200 mg per day of curcumin enhances endothelial function (linings of the arteries), even in young, and apparently healthy people. This strongly suggests that by taking a regular supplement of curcumin, the risk of heart disease is significantly reduced, without the need for aspirin or statins. Curcumin works by allowing blood vessels to expand, rather than depending upon the blood-thinning effect of chemical drugs.
- Diabetes – due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin has been found to be a highly promising, natural treatment for diabetes. It is also effective for other associated inflammatory spin-off diseases such as pancreatitis and fatty liver.
Given the serious (and expensive to the NHS) nature of the side effects of drugs such as Metformin, natural solutions are being urgently sought. Curcumin is a leading possibility to fulfil this role.
- Cancer – Research is ongoing to assess the role of curcumin in fighting various types of cancer, both as a preventative measure and in treatment. Laboratory trials have already proven its effectiveness in selectively killing tumour cells and preventing regrowth. Further human trials of curcumin for use as a cancer drug are looking extremely positive.
- Inflammatory bowel disease – A placebo-based, double-blind trial, has revealed dramatic and positive results in the treatment of the inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – Patients with active rheumatoid arthritis took part in a pilot study to establish the role of curcumin in relieving pain from inflammation. Curcumin proved to be ‘significantly’ more effective than the pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory drugs also used. It was concluded that there is a need for wider trials to validate these results.
Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome – A study has shown that a bioavailable form of curcumin can significantly reduce weight, without negative side effects, in overweight trial participants. The subjects were also suffering with metabolic syndrome (high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and high cholesterol or triglyceride levels).
Findings of clinical trials have shown that curcumin works at a molecular level to fight inflammation. The effectiveness of curcumin is on a par with pharmaceutical drugs — but without negative side-effects
Antioxidant Properties of Turmeric
Research has shown that curcumin, due to its chemical structure, gives a two-pronged attack against free radical damage:
- Antioxidant properties can help to block free radicals (molecules consisting of unpaired electrons which cause damage within the body)
- Curcumin is also able to stimulate the body’s own mechanism for creating protective, antioxidant enzymes.
Curcumin has multiple properties: as an oxygen-radical scavenger (antioxidant) and an anti-inflammatory agent (particularly in relation to inflammation of the epithelium (lining) of the lungs. Study
Curcumin Treats Brain-Related Diseases
There are significant results from various studies into the use of curcumin for Alzheimer’s disease and depression.
- Alzheimer’s Disease – Trials into the effectiveness of curcumin to tackle Alzheimer’s disease are ongoing, but encouraging findings have already emerged.
- Depression – There have been some very positive results in trials and studies of curcumin in the treatment of depression. One trial, involving 60 participants, found curcumin to be an effective and safe treatment for patients with major depressive disorder (without other psychotic disorders or suicidal tendency.
Anti-Ageing Benefits of Curcumin
Many of the problems, which arise as we age, are related to oxidative damage within our body. This is down to the presence of free radicals which react to such things as proteins, fatty acids or DNA. Because of curcumin’s chemical structure, it neutralises free radicals, and this gives us a great deal of protection. Curcumin also stimulates our body to produce its own antioxidant enzymes.
Diet, and particularly eating plenty of vegetables and plants of the kind that contain phytonutrients, plays a big part in staying healthy into old age. Curcumin has been found to contain a serious amount of these properties.
The Bottom Line
There is a great deal of scientific evidence to support the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin.
With no known side effects, curcumin is safe to take on a regular basis, but curcumin alone has quite low bioavailability (absorption by the body). The solution to this has been found to be the mixture of the active ingredient of black pepper (piperine), taken alongside curcumin. This blend enables the body to have a much greater ability to absorb curcumin.
WHEN LOOKING FOR A CURCUMIN (TURMERIC) SUPPLEMENT, FIND ONE WHICH COMPRISES A MIXTURE OF THE TWO SUBSTANCES TO ENSURE MAXIMUM ABSORPTION AND BENEFIT.