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By Danielle White Medically Reviewed by Terry Anderson, RD
Last Updated : 02/14/2020
Many have claimed they received superior health benefits from curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric. But what do the studies say?
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a famous spice in India and other parts of Southeast Asia. This pungent yellow powder is present in their culture for hundreds of years and accounted as an important medicinal food that is proven to have anti-inflammatory properties and treat other health conditions like arthritis, gallbladder problems, and cancer¹.
Curcumin, the active ingredient of Turmeric and the one responsible for its yellow color, has been shown to help in inflammatory conditions and give other therapeutic benefits, mostly because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties².
However, despite the amazing health benefits, Curcumin has poor bioavailability properties. Bioavailability means the total substance absorbed by the body. That’s why numerous tests were and still are being conducted to improve the absorption of Curcumin to the body³.
One such way to increase the bioabsorption of Curcumin is to add black pepper when using Turmeric. Modern Turmeric supplements have been using the active ingredient of black pepper, Piperine, to make Turmeric more bioavailable. A study has discovered that there’s an increase of bioavailability by 2,000 percent when one consumes 20 milligrams of piperine along with 2 grams of curcumin⁴.
Initially, Turmeric became famous because of its superior ability to fight inflammation. As such, it’s most commonly used in traditional medicine for varied conditions involving chronic inflammation like arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
One study actually suggests that curcumin may prove to be more effective than OTC drugs that treat inflammation (like Advil), provided that the right dose is observed⁵. This proved to be a better, healthier, and more organic alternative when managing inflammation.
Because of Turmeric’s ability to fight inflammation, defend the body from free radicals, and hamper deterioration of the brain, it may be an efficient anti-aging treatment.
One study looks into the possibility of Turmeric to inhibit the inflammatory process that is associated with aging. As a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, Curcumin from Turmeric can be an efficient inhibitor of inflammation to slow down ageing⁶.
Free radicals are harmful atoms that can damage cells and can also lead to diseases and premature aging. It may even damage the DNA and cause conditions like cancer, arthritis, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
Antioxidants are the ones that can help defend yourself from damage caused by free radicals. Since Turmeric also has antioxidant properties, it may be a perfect and effective treatment to rid yourself of free radicals.
Chronic symptoms of osteoarthritis have been known to lessen when Turmeric is used. Because of its very effective anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin may be a secure and efficient long-term medication alternative for people suffering from osteoarthritis.
To prove its efficacy, a study conducted tests on people with osteoarthritis using Meriva, a proprietary medicine made of curcumins and other compounds. They found that those who took 1,000 mg/day of Meriva experienced significant progress on performance and emotional response after eight months compared to the control group which saw no changes⁷. Other observations include a significant decrease in the use of painkillers and non-drug treatments, like physiotherapy.
Additionally, in one issue of Arthritis Research & Therapy, 50 mg oral curcumin per kilogram (kg) body weight given to mice subjects substantially lessened the development of osteoarthritis, while a topical application provided pain relief⁸.
While more research is required to know if curcumin can be an effective long-term medication for people with heart diseases, there are several studies that support this function.
Aside from anti-inflammatory properties, modern research has also proved its antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, anti-thrombotic, and cardiovascular protective abilities. One study suggests that the antioxidant attributes of curcumin have been shown to weaken adriamycin-induced cardiotoxicity (adriamycin is an effective anti-cancer agent) and may prevent diabetic cardiovascular complications⁹.
Tumor growth is linked to inflammation. As such, curcumin may help with preventing the development of different cancer types, like pancreatic, prostate, breast, and gastric cancers. Research has been done to test this function in mice subjects. Researchers found that curcumin may help lessen the speed of development of the tumor and may even prevent it from happening by suppressing tumor initiation, promotion, and metastasis. In the tests, curcumin disrupted the development of cancerous cells and even causing those harmful cells to die¹⁰.
Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric shows great promise in managing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. This chronic inflammatory disorder causes swelling of joints that results in bone degradation and deformity.
One study has proven the efficacy of curcumin to those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Subjects were given 500 mg of curcumin with other compounds which resulted in significant improvement compared to the controlled groups that didn’t receive the curcumin treatment. After eight weeks, the curcumin-only group saw significant improvements in joint tenderness and swelling when compared with the other two groups¹¹.
Curcumin may help inhibit diabetes because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Tests done to animal subjects suggest that curcumin may treat and prevent diabetes¹². Although more studies should be done to human subjects to test the validity.
A study in obese mice with type 2 diabetes published For instance, in the July 2019 issue of Nutrition & Metabolism, a 16-week test conducted to mice with type 2 diabetes proved that curcumin treatments decrease blood insulin levels¹³.
According to a study, Turmeric may even help with defending the brain from degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Administration of curcumin can alleviate deteriorating spatial memory because of age and can also increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is an important protein in the brain and spinal cord. It keeps neurons healthy which is crucial for learning and memory. Because of Turmeric’s assistance on BDNF levels, it may help prevent or even reverse brain degeneration¹⁴. But further research needs to be done to validate Turmeric as a possible long-term solution for people suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Having depression is also caused by having lower levels of BDNF. As discussed above, Turmeric’s ability to increase the levels of BDNF also makes it a potent antidepressant. A study conducted on mice subjects found that injecting them with varied doses of curcumin for 10 days increased their BDNF¹⁵.
A randomized controlled trial conducted to humans with major depressive disorder also gave favorable results. Researchers prepared three different groups, one receiving curcumin treatment, one receiving Prozac, and the last receiving a combination of the two treatments. After six weeks, the three groups experienced similar improvements. These findings led to the conclusion that curcumin may also be a safe and potent solution option for major depressive disorder¹⁶.
If you have skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis, these may also be treated by Turmeric not only because of its anti-inflammatory abilities but also because of its antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties.
The problem is Turmeric’s poor stability and solubility which makes it not-so-appropriate topical skin treatment, according to a study¹⁷.
One study suggests that Turmeric may also be proven useful as a topical treatment on the degradation of vision. Curcumin eye drop treatment is given to rats two times per day for three weeks. They experienced the prevention of degeneration compared to the untreated group, which saw a 23% decline in retinal cells. Still, more studies are required to see if curcumin can be an efficient treatment for eye degeneration in humans¹⁸.
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