by Yousry Naguib, Ph.D.
Curcumin is one of the most promising compounds obtained from Ayurvedic medicine. It is obtained from the rhizomes (underground stems) of the Indian spice, turmeric (Curcuma longa) and is responsible for the yellow color of Indian curry and American mustard. Thousands of studies have examined curcumin’s effect on inflammation, artery health, cognitive health, joint health, blood sugar metabolism and its role as an antioxidant.
For purposes of this article, I’ll refer just to curcumin, but it’s actually comprised of a group of three curcuminoids called curcumin, demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxy-curcumin. Here’s some of the latest research on curcumin that has propelled the explosion of interest in curcumin. Inflammation modulation
Inflammation is a localized immune system response elicited by injury or stress, which serves to initiate the body’s healing processes. However, too much inflammation can cause negative symptoms such as swelling or pain and is even believed to be a factor in some diseases if it occurs too frequently.
A large number of studies have shown that curcumin can modulate the inflammatory response by down-regulating the activity of inflammatory enzymes (COX-2, LOX and others). This modulation is believed to be controlled by curcumin’s ability to down-regulate NF-kB. NF-kB is a protein complex that is involved in the cascade of events involved in inflammation as well as the body’s normal maintenance system that regulates cell survival and the elimination of damaged cell components.Joint comfort benefits
Certain types of joint pain are known to be caused by inflammation in the joint tissue. If allowed to continue without taking preventative measures, chronic inflammation in joints can even lead to significant joint problems. Many people are looking for a more natural alternative to tame the flame of inflammation besides taking aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. Some are taking traditional supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM to help rebuild cartilage, but then are adding curcumin to their daily regimen to promote joint comfort while the other supplements start rebuilding. Here are a few studies that are prompting this new approach.
In one compelling study, those taking 500 mg twice per day of curcumin extract saw a 58% reduction in their global WOMAC scores (Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index). The curcumin used in this study was an extract where the curcuminoids were bound to phospholipids from lecithin for improved bioavailability.
In another study on joint health, subjects took curcumin in a combination product containing 250 mg of curcumin extract combined with black pepper extract along with boswellia and ginger extract. They showed marked improvement in their WOMAC and VAS (Visual Analog Scale) scores for joint comfort, stiffness and mobility after taking 2 tablets twice a day for 56 days. The subjects also experienced less stiffness in the morning and also showed improvement in joint mobility in a 6 minute walking test.
In yet another study, investigators at Baylor University Medical Center evaluated 45 people with arthritis with two treatments for an 8 week period. One group took an arthritis drug and another group took 500 mg of a curcumin extract twice a day. Both groups showed significant improvements in joint comfort, swelling and tenderness. The curcumin group had the largest improvement, although the difference was not statistically significant.Cognitive and mental health
Curcumin may have the potential to enhance cognitive abilities. Preliminary studies with animals showed that curcuminoids can enhance the brain clearance of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain. This is exciting news because amyloid plaque build up has been associated with dementia related conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Healthy blood fats
A promising study of obese subjects taking 1,000 mg of a curcumin extract once daily for 30 days resulted in a significant lowering of triglycerides (10%). It did not seem to have a significant influence on LDL or HDL cholesterol, even though a prior, smaller study showed some benefit of increasing “good” HDL cholesterol. There was no change in body fat. The lipid modulating effects seem to be related to how the body processes food and may be related to insulin sensitivity and metabolic syndrome. This shows that curcumin has the potential to challenge many of today’s arterial and cardiovascular problems. Digestion and blood sugar
Another study on humans points to curcumin’s potential to help maintain a healthy digestive system. A study done using 2,000 mg of curcumin extract daily with meals indicated that it has a protective effect against intestinal inflammation.
Preliminary animal studies have shown curcumin’s potential to improve symptoms associated with diabetes. One study showed that curcumin extract administered to diabetic rats lowered their high blood sugar levels and improved insulin sensitivity, which was attributed in part to its impact on inflammation. More studies are need to confirm if curcumin extract can play an important role in the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels. What is the best form of curcumin?
Turmeric spice used in cooking and curry dishes contains only a small amount of curcuminoids (approximately 2-3%). This low percentage makes it impractical to use to obtain curcumin’s health benefits. For this reason, curcumin extracts are standardized to higher levels of curcuminoids (95%). Look for curcumin extract with a bioavailability enhancer since curcumin is not well absorbed. These enhancers include ingredients such as black pepper extract (shown to increase absorption 20-fold) or curcumin extract that is bound to phospholipids from lecithin. Both of these have been found to significantly enhance the absorption of curcumin. How much to take?
A reasonable dose of curcumin extract supplements is 250-500 mg 1-2 times per day. For cognitive health, dose levels are generally much higher, but the research is too preliminary to recommend an effective dose. As new studies become available, we’ll keep you posted on the tremendous benefits of curcumin.
Copyright 2014-2015, Nutrition Express.
Reprinted with permission.