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Kent Probst, BS, MEd
Kent Probst is the owner of Long Healthy Life Blog
What is Curcumin?
Many people around the world are familiar with the yellow tropical root turmeric. It’s widely used as a spice for cooking. Turmeric is also popular due to the health benefits of curcumin, a polyphenol compound in the root.
Curcumin has been cultivated in southeast Asia and India for thousands of years for its medicinal properties.
Curcumin continues to be the subject of much scientific inquiry for its wide ranging health benefits.
If you’re unfamiliar with the health benefits of curcumin, it has the ability to lower inflammation, protect the brain and heart, stop cancer, slow aging and treat arthritis, just to name a few.
Health Benefits of Curcumin
1. Curcumin is an Anti-Inflammatory Agent
Chronic inflammation is often a precursor for many diseases of aging such as cancer, diabetes, dementia and atherosclerosis.
This is why curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties have garnered so much interest by scientists.
Curcumin works by inhibiting mediators of inflammation such as cyclooxygenase (COX-2), NFkappaB, inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and lipooxygenase (LOX).
Curcumin has demonstrated the ability to reduce inflammation by inhibiting hs-CRP and IL-6, both markers of inflammation.
Animal research and cell culture studies show that curcumin may be a therapeutic agent effective against inflammatory diseases such as pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Curcumin can “effectively improve symptoms” and “reduce inflammatory response” in the treatment of atherosclerosis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis and depression.
2. Curcumin Has Antioxidant Benefits
Ask most people about antioxidants and they will tell you they’ve heard the term, even though they may not be able to define it.
Antioxidants are compounds that neutralize reactive oxygen species (ROS), or unstable molecules containing oxygen that react with other molecules in the cell.
A build up of ROS in cells may cause damage to DNA, RNA, proteins, as well as cell death.
This oxidative stress is believed to be a factor involved in the development of diseases such as cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and atherosclerosis
A meta-analysis of studies demonstrated that curcumin can significantly reduce oxidative stress levels and lower the risk of many diseases.
3. Curcumin Benefits Brain Health
Scientific literature documenting in vivo and in vitro studies is demonstrating that curcumin can be instrumental in protecting against neurodegenerative diseases.
Neurodegenerative diseases are commonly caused by chronic inflammation, oxidative stress and misfolded proteins.
Normally, linear protein chains fold into native three-dimensional structures.
Misfolded proteins are linear protein chains that fold into alternative forms that become inactive and functionally toxic.
Fortunately, curcumin has the ability to improve brain health by targeting chronic inflammation, oxidative stress and misfolded proteins.
Over a 12 week period, cognition and neurogenesis (growth of new neurons) improved in rats given curcumin-fortified diets.
Spatial memory and locomotor activity improved in Wistar rats that were given curcumin over a 28 day period.
People who were given 500 mg of curcumin twice a day for 30 days saw significant improvements in performance on memory and audio-visual tests.
4. Curcumin Provides Protection Against Cardiovascular Disease
One of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease is metabolic syndrome – a combination of lipid abnormalities, hypertension, abdominal obesity and glucose intolerance.
A review of the literature showed that curcumin can improve the biomarkers in which high density lipoprotein (HDL) is dysfunctional.
Elevated HDL is considered a protective factor against cardiovascular disease.
In patients with diabetic microangiopathy, curcumin significantly improved edema and oxygen diffusion in the skin.
Researchers who reviewed the literature concluded that curcumin improves endothelial function. Endothelial dysfunction is a risk factor for atherosclerosis, heart failure, arterial hypertension and ischemia reperfusion injury.
The endothelium is the layer of squamous cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels.
In patients with diabetic cardiomyopathy, clinical studies have found that curcumin can reverse hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, obesity-related diseases and obesity.
5. Curcumin Helps with Cancer Prevention and Treatment
Curcumin’s cancer fighting properties have been studied extensively in published scientific literature.
The effectiveness of curcumin at stopping cancer cells is demonstrated by inhibiting the ability of cancer cells to use and make ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
Cancer cells are selectively targeted by curcumin, with no adverse effect on healthy cells.
Since the growth of cancer cells rely on angiogenesis (the development of new blood vessels), stopping this process can limit the growth of tumors.
Another way that curcumin is effective against cancer is by blocking angiogenesis and the flow of blood to cancer cells.
Curcumin has been shown to be effective against the following types of cancer: colorectal, breast, prostate, liver and lung.
Four grams of curcumin per day over a 30 day period in phase IIa clinical trials reduced the number of aberrant crypt foci (abnormal tube-like glands in the colon and rectum).
Untreated, aberrant crypt foci can become malignant tumors.
Curcumin, when combined with oxaliplatin (FOLFOX) chemotherapy, and curcumin by itself, reduced the amount of colorectal liver metastasis in cancer stem cell models.
Angiogenesis and tumor growth were inhibited by curcumin in human breast cancer in a mouse model, suggesting that curcumin could be used as an adjuvant agent to chemotherapy.
Promising research regarding curcumin and breast cancer showed that curcumin can reduce the amount of methylation of genes linked to cancer development.
Liver cancer is among the leading causes of death regarding cancer worldwide, especially since alcohol use, the hepatitis C virus and hepatitis B virus are the most frequent causes of liver cancer.
Fortunately, researchers are finding that curcumin can suppress tumor growth and cause cancer cell death in liver cancer patients who have a poor prognosis.
In another study published in Oncology Letters, curcumin inhibited hepatocellular carcinoma in vivo and in vitro by decreasing vascular endothelial growth factor.
Lung cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the world and claims more lives yearly than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined.
It’s easy to see why researchers would be motivated to find new ways to treat or prevent lung cancer.
A published study showed positive results in which curcumin “significantly inhibited tumor growth in a Lewis lung carcinoma” tumor model, leading the investigators to conclude that curcumin “possesses anti-cancer effects.”
Studies looking at the effectiveness of curcumin against lung cancer found that it works against cancer by modulation of microRNAs, and that it’s “well tolerated in humans.”
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer affecting men in the United States,
making prevention, early treatment and diagnosis all the more important.
The modulation of a number of different pathways by curcumin was associated
with decreased colony formation, less cancer cell proliferation and cell-cell aggregation in prostate cancer.
Curcumin has also shown the ability to inhibit prostate cancer growth, as well as reduce prostate-specific antigen (PSA) by inhibiting androgen receptor activity and PSA expression.
6. Curcumin Helps with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Prevention
Emerging evidence is demonstrating that curcumin can have a significant impact regarding the prevention of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Some of the evidence coming out of published studies is showing that curcumin can prevent the accumulation of the abnormal protein, beta amyloid.
Alzheimer’s patients have high concentrations of beta amyloid plaque in their brains, causing inflammation and death of brain cells.
Curcumin is also demonstrating the ability to provide neuroprotection against Parkinson’s disease with its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Parkinson’s disease is caused by death of the cells in substantia nigra which produce dopamine.
7. Curcumin is Used for Arthritis Prevention and Treatment
Supplements can be an effective component of your regimen to prevent arthritis or to keep it from getting worse.
Curcumin also inhibits the activity of molecular signals responsible for inflammation, the destruction of cartilage and the excessive growth of blood vessels related to inflamed joints.
8. Curcumin Works as a Treatment for Depression
Research is showing promising results for curcumin as a treatment for depression.
When compared to prescription drugs, it demonstrates similar effectiveness in battling depression.
In a randomized-controlled trial involving people with major depressive disorder, curcumin was just as effective as Prozac (fluoxetine) over a six week period.
9. Curcumin Has Anti-Aging Effects
One aspect of longevity is maintaining telomere length. The telomeres are the caps on the ends of the chromosomes.
Each time a cell divides, the telomeres shorten, until the cell can no longer divide, leading to disease and faster aging.
Curcumin is responsible for “enhanced telomerase activity.” Telomerase adds new DNA to the ends of the chromosomes.
Curcumin has also demonstrated the ability to target senescent cells.
When your cells age, they become dysfunctional or senescent. Normally, as a young person, your old cells die off through a process called apoptosis.
But with age this process starts to break down. The old cells don’t die off.
They start building up and emit toxic compounds known as senescence-associated secretory phenotype, or SASP, that cause long term inflammation that leads to disease.
Another benefit of curcumin is that it has senolytic properties, meaning it can return the number of senescent cells closer to a youthful level.
10. Curcumin Helps with Treatment of Metabolic Syndrome
As mentioned earlier, metabolic syndrome is a combination of lipid abnormalities, hypertension, abdominal obesity and glucose intolerance.
Clinical trials with curcumin involving adults with symptoms of metabolic syndrome showed that “after 56-day treatment, the curcumin-treated group experienced a significant improvement in fasting plasma insulin (FPI), HOMA index, waist circumference, blood pressure, and triglycerides.”
Making Curcumin Work for You
With its wide ranging benefits, it’s not surprising that curcumin is becoming more sought after as a supplement.
While you may be thinking that all you need to do is incorporate turmeric into your diet, unfortunately only about 3% of turmeric is curcumin.
Another problem with standard curcumin is poor bioavailability when taken orally. Much of the standard curcumin taken orally doesn’t get absorbed or reach the tissues.
Since curcumin is fat soluble, it should be taken with a heavy meal.
The good news is that you don’t have to take high doses of curcumin and hope that it gets absorbed.
There’s now a form of curcumin that’s patented and 45 times more bioavailable than standard curcumin.
This patented form of curcumin is combined with derivatives of fenugreek seeds known as galactomannans.
Researchers compared the bioavailability of standard curcumin to the curcumin-galactomannan formula and found that the people who took the patented form had blood curcumin levels 45 times higher than the standard curcumin group.
When you take curcumin, make sure you’re maximizing the health benefits with the correct supplement.
What has been your health experience with curcumin if you’re already taking it?
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