The Health Benefits of Turmeric

The Health Benefits of Turmeric

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This plant, powder, supplement or medication depending on how you are consuming it has gained a lot of traction in the last few years. It has many proposed benefits other than culinary, so I thought I would take a few minutes to present some of the evidence, if any, and then discuss other reported benefits.

Briefly, Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a shrub plant of the ginger family native to India and other parts of Asia. For cooking, the plant, and specifically the root, is typically ground into an orange powder and then used in many traditional Indian meals. It has a mix of a hot pepper and mustardy smell and is one of the key ingredients to make curry and mustard.

Contents

The powder is high in manganese, iron and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). It also contains small amounts of fiber, copper, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin c. The most active ingredient is curcumin, which is also found in limited amounts in ginger. A lot of the research looks specifically at curcumin, so this presentation will sort of interchange the powder in it’s entirety, turmeric, with the most active ingredient, curcumin.

Anti-inflammatory?

The powder has long been used by the Chinese and Indian cultures as an anti-inflammatory agent. Common uses include digestive and liver disease, skin disease and wounds.

The research backs it up the claim as an anti-inflammatory compound; I’ve cited a few of the many articles below if you want to know more. It has been shown to inhibit the effects of TNF-a (tumor necrosis factor alpha), NF-kB which helps reduce Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) iNOS, LOX (directly inhibited), and Phospholipase A2 (directly. It also suppresses macrophages, an infection fighting cell and may suppress certain adhesion molecules used in inflammation (E-selectin and P-selectin, ICAM-1, VCAM-1, and ELAM-1,)

The long-term health benefits of this anti-inflammatory process are still being researched.

Anti-oxidant?

Turmeric, and specifically curcumin, is also thought to be a powerful antioxidant. Anti-oxidants are important for protecting cells from free radicals, which can damage cells, their DNA and even cause cell death.

One study found that 500 mg of curcumin had potent anti-oxidant activity.

So it’s anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant, so what? What medical problems can it help with? Well let’s take a look…

Medical Benefits

Ulcerative Colitis

One double blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled study found that curcumin was able to maintain remission in patients with quiescent ulcerative colitis over 6 months. The relapse rate was lower in those who consumed curcumin as well

Crohn's Disease

There is also weak evidence it may help with the symptoms of crohn’s disease

Osteoarthritis

One study found that 8 months of 1000 mg turmeric daily reduced symptoms of knee arthritis by 41%, with improvements in pain, stiffness and physical functioning. Although it has not been yet investigated, this presumably applies to other joints affected by osteoarthritis

Heart Disease

  • Atherosclerosis: May help reduce plaque buildup in your arteries which causes heart attacks and strokes
  • Cholesterol: May lower cholesterol and maintain lower cholesterol
  • Blood clots: It has anti-platelet effects and may help your body prevent the development of blood clots
  • Blood pressure: Several studies have shown that it can reduce blood pressure by an increase in nitric oxide
  • Although these studies are promising, there is no good data looking at use of turmeric and risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Cancer

Animal models have suggested that curcumin may help prevent or treat several types of cancers, including prostate, breast, skin, and colon cancer. This is likely from some combination of anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, although it is currently unknown. This is very preliminary, and it’s effects on prevention of cancer in humans is not known

Diabetes

Supplementation with curucmin in a pre-diabetic population over 9 months preserved pancreatic function, improved insulin sensitivity and none of the pre-diabetics developed diabetes suggesting that it may have a role in treatment and in prevention.

Early evidence also suggests it may help with

  • Indigestion/ Dyspepsia
  • Pain control
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Antibacterial, Antiviral- Researchers don’t know how
  • Uveitis- Inflammation of the eye
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease - Evidence is very preliminary, no studies in humans

One thing I want to point out that it doesn’t help with.. Stomach ulcers

Evidence suggests turmeric may make stomach ulcers worse, especially when taken for long periods of time at higher than recommended doses. May also interfere with drugs that reduce stomach acid such as zantac or prilosec

References

Aggarwal, S. (2005). Curcumin (Diferuloylmethane) Downregulates Expression of Cell Proliferation, Antiapoptotic and Metastatic Gene Products Through Suppression of I B  Kinase and AKT Activation. Molecular Pharmacology.

Chainani-Wu, N. (2003). Safety and Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Curcumin: A Component of Tumeric ( Curcuma longa ). The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 9(1), 161-168.

Chaudhary, A., Pandurangan, A., & Bhandari, A. (2012). Antioxidant potential and total phenolic content of methanolic bark extract of Madhuca indica (koenig) Gmelin. Ancient Sci Life Ancient Science of Life, 31(3), 132.

Mahesh, T., Balasubashini, M. S., & Menon, V. P. (2005). Effect of Photo-Irradiated Curcumin Treatment Against Oxidative Stress in Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Rats. Journal of Medicinal Food, 8(2), 251-255.

Zafir, A., & Banu, N. (2007). Antioxidant potential of fluoxetine in comparison to Curcuma longa in restraint-stressed rats. European Journal of Pharmacology,572(1), 23-31.

Hanai, H., Iida, T., & Takeuchi, K. (2006). Curcumin Maintenance Therapy for Ulcerative Colitis: Randomized, Multicenter, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 4(12), 1502-1506.

Belcaro, G. (2010). Efficacy and safety of Meriva®, a curcumin-phosphatidylcholine complex, during extended administration in osteoarthritis patients. Altern Med Rev, 15(4), 337-344.

Disilvestro, R. A., Joseph, E., & Zhao, S. (2012). Diverse effects of a low dose supplement of lipidated curcumin in healthy middle aged people. Nutrition Journal Nutr J, 11(1), 79.

Akazawa, N., Choi, Y., & Miyaki, A. (2012). Curcumin ingestion and exercise training improve vascular endothelial function in postmenopausal women.Nutrition Research, 32(10), 795-799.

Chuengsamarn, S., Rattanamongkolgul, S., & Luechapudiporn, R. (2012). Curcumin Extract for Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care, 35(11), 2121-2127.

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