Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin
Turmeric, the famous golden spice, is the popular ingredient that flavors many curries across the Asian continent, particularly in India.
However, this spice has recently grabbed the attention of researchers and scientists throughout the medical field, not for culinary reasons, but due to the discovery of potential benefits to health and wellbeing. It’s quite a revelation!
Read on to learn about some of the powerful health benefits of turmeric, backed by science.
What is Turmeric?
If spice varieties were a family, turmeric would be a cousin of ginger. It can be found in various different colors including white, black and of course the most well known, yellow. The plant is dug up and the root or rhizomes are ground down into the fragrant power which we all know and love.
The yellow variety of turmeric (also called by the scientific name Circuma Longa), is the kind most people familiar with and is most popularly grown throughout India.
Turmeric has been used throughout Asia for millennia. Its uses go far beyond spicing up your favorite curry too!
Its golden yellow color makes turmeric popular for dying fabrics and even as coloring for some cosmetics and soaps.
More significantly, this spice is getting recognition for the impact it has on health and wellbeing. It’s the compound only found within turmeric, called curcumin, which gives the spice its bright color and also contains the special health-boosting properties.
Although the Indians have known this for years, science has finally caught up and realized it really does have medicinal activity (source)
Curcumin is a circumanoid and it is the main active element in turmeric. This element provides very potent antioxidant properties and is even thought to be an anti-inflammatory. But this is only the beginning of what the bright powder can do.
However, in turmeric itself, the curcumin level is not very high - only around 3%. Most scientific research shows that much higher levels are needed to reap the health-boosting benefits. Unfortunately it would be difficult to achieve these simply from adding the spice to your meals (source)
However, many turmeric and curcumin supplements are now available which boast numerous health benefits.
Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin
Curcumin is a Natural Anti Inflammatory
Inflammation (at least in the short term) is actually very beneficial. Inflammation helps to heal the body and fight infection. It can however, become a serious issue if long term, chronic inflammation develops.
Research has shown us that inflammation is the precursor to most chronic diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and even cancer (source).
As many of these diseases are some of the world’s (especially the western world) most deadly diseases, anything that can naturally reduce chronic inflammation is beneficial to health.
One review suggests “curcumin has shown to be a highly pleiotropic molecule capable of interacting with numerous molecular targets involved in inflammation.” (source) In scientific terms, pleiotropic means that curcumin has varied effects other than those which could be expected (source).
Research has shown that curcumin is a powerful anti inflammatory, in some cases, even more so than the most common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
In one study, the anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin were compared to a conventional medicinal drug and it was curcumin that produced a better anti-inflammatory response (source)
The best part is, many NSAIDs drugs have a nasty list of side effects, especially when used long term. However, curcumin has shown to be an effective way of treating inflammation without any side effects (source)
Turmeric is a Powerful Antioxidant
Oxidative damage is believed to be the primary cause of aging and many diseases. Everyday we are exposed to pollutants in the air and damage from the sun’s rays.
These free radicals can cause serious harm in the human body. Antioxidants hunt down the free radicals to stop them.
One study showed that curcumin is the most potent scavenger of superoxide radicals and therefore the most beneficial (source)
Moreover, curcumin has an additional secret weapon - it produces its own enzymes that stimulate biosynthesis, further increasing antioxidant levels in the body (source).
Curcumin Lowers the Risk Of Brain Diseases and Promotes Brain Function
Neurons in the brain are a complicated business. However, the basics you need to know are that one particular growth hormone that functions in the brain called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is responsible for the dividing of neurons (source).
It has been found that many people suffering from some of the most common brain disorders - most notably depression and Alzheimer’s disease - have low levels of this hormone.
However, research has shown that curcumin can increase brain levels of BDNF (source)
This is only one of the ways in which curcumin could be beneficial to Alzheimer’s sufferers.
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease which affects the brain. It usually tends to occur in older people over the age of 65, however some people can be affected in younger years with early onset Alzheimer’s. In simple terms, it causes brain cells to die which has detrimental consequences for mental functions such as memory, behaviour and cognitive ability (source).
Unfortunately, there is currently no known cure for the illness, but research is ongoing and treatments (both natural and synthetic) can be used to help at least delay advancement of the disease.
The primary cause of Alzheimer’s is thought to be proteins in the body called amyloids building up in the brain, which cause the cells to die.
Research has proven that curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers can prevent the amyloids joining together by latching onto them, therefore preventing or delaying the death of brain cells (source).
Depression is the most common mental disorder globally. People who are depressed often show symptoms like erratic sleep patterns, lack of appetite as well as no longer gaining pleasure from activities that were previously enjoyed.
Depression is a serious condition which not only has a huge impact on quality of life, but when left untreated, it can lead to suicide.
Curcumin has also shown to be effective in the treatment of depression. Some research has even shown that it can be as effective as traditional antidepressant drugs
A study placed people diagnosed with depression into randomized groups. Some received the typical antidepressant drug , with others receiving curcumin and a third group receiving both.
The results showed that curcumin was almost as effective as . Interestingly, curcumin also seemed to enhance Prozac’s antidepressant properties as the group which took a combination of both faired the best (source).
This study shows that curcumin has potential to be effective as a natural treatment for depression. This is particularly beneficial because many antidepressant drugs have serious side effects, however curcumin as a natural element, carries very few (if any) potential side effects for users.
Furthermore, there is ongoing research showing that curcumin may promote the secretion of certain ‘feel good’ hormones like dopamine and serotonin by boosting neurotransmitters. (source) This in turn would elevate the mood of patients and reduce the symptoms of depression.
Curcumin Can Lower the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease (most commonly heart disease and stroke) is the biggest killer worldwide. Each year, more people across the globe die of cardiovascular disease (CVD) than any other cause.
In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 17 million people die each year from CVD which represents more than 30% of all global deaths (source).
These statistics are frankly terrifying and it is clear that anything that can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease is necessary.
Curcumin has been reported to benefit cardiovascular health in many ways.
The term “cardiomyopathy” refers to diseases of the heart muscle which affect a large number of the population each year (source). It has been shown in one study that curcumin can protect the heart muscle cells and prevent them from dying (source).
Another study looked at 121 patients who were undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery. The patients were randomized to either receive a placebo or 4 grams of curcumin per day, a few days before and after the surgery. The curcumin group had a 65% decreased risk of experiencing a heart attack in the hospital (source)
Curcumin May Help Lower Your Risk of Cancer
According to a survey conducted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 20.3 million people were diagnosed with a form of cancer in 2014, which equates to 8.5% of the population (source).
It follows that research on cancer prevention and reduction is always at the forefront of clinical studies. The potential benefits of curcumin in combating this disease are no exception (source) and many clinical trials have been carried out on the effects of curcumin on cancer (source).
Although there are many forms of cancer, although some have particular similarities which appear to be affected by the use of curcumin supplementation (source)
The following are the main potential benefits of curcumin in relation to cancer:
- According to research, curcumin can cause death of cancer cells by inducing apoptosis, which means it prevents tumours from spreading (source)
- It can also scale down the effects of angiogenesis which means the growth of blood vessels supplying the tumor. This means it prevents the cancer cells obtaining oxygen in the body, so limits the growth speed of cancerous tumors (source).
- There are suggestions that when curcumin is combined with certain chemotherapy treatments it could also increase efficacy (source).
Can Ease the Pain of Arthritis
Arthritis is a common condition especially in western countries and often develops in older people. It is characterised by inflammation or swelling of the joints.
With curcumin’s potential anti-inflammatory properties, it is not surprising that it can be beneficial as a form of treatment and pain management for various types of arthritis.
The two most common varieties of the condition are known as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and curcumin has been scientifically shown to aid them both.
Osteoarthritis is caused by natural wear and tear of the cartilage around the joints. It’s commonly found in the older generation as a trait of the aging process (source).
People with osteoarthritis typically experience symptoms like stiffness and pain in their hands, knees, hips or any area of the body which allows movement.
Curcumin can act as an anti-inflammatory to reduce the swelling caused by arthritis.
In one study, 50 patients were administered doses of 200 mg curcumin and were evaluated by measuring distance walked on a treadmill.
After the designated timeframe of 3 months elapsed, 58% of the volunteers improved mobility from 76 meters to 332 meters. This confirmed that curcumin was clinically effective in the management and treatment of osteoarthritis (source).
Rheumatoid arthritis is different to osteoarthritis in that it’s an autoimmune disease (source). This means the body begins to attack itself, in doing so, it injures the lining of the joints and causes inflammation.
Curcumin can reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by using its anti-inflammatory effects to relieve swelling.
There have even been numerous suggestions that curcumin can be more effective in combating the effects of rheumatoid arthritis than using conventional nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
In a clinical study, 45 patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis were divided into three groups. Each group had a different substance administered - 500 mg curcumin, 50 mg diclofenac (a standard drug falling under the NSAIDs category used for arthritis) or a combination of the two.
The results were rated using a “disease activity score” and also by an official criteria for reduction of swelling and tenderness in the joints.
The patients who took curcumin showed a significantly higher percentage of improvement in both scoring criteria. And even more interestingly the scores were considerably higher than the results achieved by diclofenac (source).
As you can see from the scientific evidence, the health benefits of turmeric and curcumin are significant. More importantly, research is still ongoing and it has even been suggested that curcumin can delay the aging process and improve longevity (source)
Although adding turmeric to your food is a great way to get some of the health benefits (and enhance the flavor of your meal!) it is most efficient in supplement form.
Curcumin has a hard time being absorbed by the body that is why supplements are also absorbed better when combined with bioperine (black pepper) which can enhance the absorption of curcumin by 2000%, thus allowing you to reap even more of the health-boosting benefits.
Give it a go today and find out why this golden wonder really is the spice of life.
Here's an interesting infographic from health.clevelandclinic.org