Turmeric, one of the key ingredients in curry, is receiving increased attention as a health food additive. Like many spices, turmeric has a long history of use in traditional medicine. The flavorful spice is cultivated from the roots of a flowering plant that grows in India and Southeast Asia, and along with giving curry its vibrant yellow color, turmeric has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The health benefits of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, are gaining traction in health and wellness circles, and there’s plenty of scientific evidence backing up the claims.
Curcumin as an Anti-Inflammatory
One of turmeric’s main claims to fame is that it fights inflammation. In the right dosage, curcumin may be a more effective anti-inflammatory treatment than common inflammation-fighting medications according to studies. Because chronic inflammation contributes to many chronic diseases, curcumin may help treat conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and arthritis.
Curcumin May Help Ease Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Because of its potent anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin may be a safe and effective long-term treatment option for people with osteoarthritis. A review found that people with osteoarthritis who took 1,000 mg per day of Meriva, a treatment made up of 75 percent curcumin, experienced significant improvements in stiffness and physical function after eight months, whereas the control group saw no improvements. Similarly, another clinical trial studied the potential effects of curcumin supplements on patients with knee osteoarthritis. The group that took 40 mg of nanocurcumin in a capsule every 12 hours experienced a significant decrease in pain and stiffness after six weeks compared with the control group. The findings were published in 2020 in Current Rheumatology Reviews.
Curcumin May Help Protect Against Heart Disease
Several studies link curcumin to cardiovascular health. One study revealed that curcumin may improve endothelial function, or the health of the thin membrane that covers the inside of the heart and blood vessels and plays a key role in regulating blood pressure. Another study found that curcumin was equally effective at improving endothelial function in people with type 2 diabetes (heart disease is a common comorbidity of type 2) as the drug atorvastatin, a medication commonly prescribed to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. More research is needed to determine if curcumin is a safe and effective long-term treatment strategy for people with heart disease.
Curcumin May Help Delay or Reverse Alzheimer’s Disease
Early research and animal studies indicate that Turmeric may help protect the brain against common degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s by increasing levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BNDF is a protein found in the brain and spinal cord that plays a key role in keeping nerve cells (neurons) healthy and regulating communication between nerve cells, which is critical for learning and memory. Brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s are associated with lower levels of BDNF, so turmeric (curcumin in particular) may help delay or reverse brain degeneration. More research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of turmeric in the prevention and treatment of brain diseases in humans.
Because the curcumin content of turmeric is typically only around 3 percent by weight, most studies use turmeric extracts that contain mostly curcumin itself, with dosages usually exceeding 1 gram per day, a level that is difficult to reach by simply using turmeric as a spice in your foods. For this reason, most people use supplements. Curcumin is not easily absorbed into the bloodstream, so to experience the full effects, its bioavailability (the rate at which your body absorbs a substance) needs to improve. Many choose to consume it with black pepper, which contains piperine, a natural substance that enhances its absorption. In fact, most curcumin supplements contain piperine, and this makes them substantially more effective.
Turmeric, and its main ingredient, curcumin, may prove to be a very important and effective nutritional supplement. Scientists are investigating its efficacy for a number of health issues and finding it may have major benefits for both the body and the brain.
Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, Dugall M, Pellegrini L, Ledda A, Grossi MG, Togni S, Appendino G. Efficacy and safety of Meriva®, a curcumin-phosphatidylcholine complex, during extended administration in osteoarthritis patients. Altern Med Rev. 2010 Dec;15(4):337-44. PMID: 21194249.
Hashemzadeh K, Davoudian N, Jaafari MR, Mirfeizi Z. The Effect of Nanocurcumin in Improvement of Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Curr Rheumatol Rev. 2020;16(2):158-164. doi: 10.2174/1874471013666191223152658. PMID: 31868149.
Pashine, L., Singh, J.V., Vaish, A.K., Ojha, S. (2012). Effect of turmeric (Curcuma longa) on overweight hyperlipidemic subjects: Double blind study, Indian Journal of Community Health 24(2)
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