Turmeric: The Proven Health Benefits of Curcumin
16 minute read
Since ancient times, turmeric, one of the most important spices in Ayurvedic medicine, India’s traditional medicine system, has been used for nearly any type of health condition. Today, turmeric is considered to be one of the most effective nutritional supplements on the market. Most of turmeric’s medicinal properties are linked to the curcumin component.
| Related: How Turmeric Helps Heal the Gut and Your Body |
If you aren’t familiar with this powerful spice, which has been scientifically proven to help do everything from alleviate inflammation to decrease your risk of brain disease, the following offers a breakdown of everything you need to know, including what turmeric and curcumin are, as well the top health benefits associated with the use of turmeric supplements in any form.
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Explore the Turmeric Guide
What is Turmeric?
Turmeric is the spice that comes from the turmeric plant found in India and South Asia. The root of the plant is harvested, cleaned, dried, and turned into a powder form to be used as a spice, a frequent addition to Indian dishes.
One of the most common questions asked about the spice is, “What does turmeric taste like?” In all honesty, when taken by itself in powder form, it is rather bitter. However, this isn’t a problem when it is taken in the form of a supplement or added to foods or tea.
What is Curcumin?
Curcumin is the main ingredient or most active component of turmeric, accounting for 2 percent of the spice. Curcumin has been used in traditional Indian and Ayurvedic medicine for its powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.1
In the last few decades, curcumin has created considerable interest among the Western medical research community, as the list of medicinal properties it offers has grown.
As a result, turmeric and curcumin are becoming increasingly popular supplements, whether they are taken together as a capsule, a liquid extract, or as a tea. Turmeric powder, which is bright yellow in color and has a warm aroma, is also an option.
In the past, technology to improve absorption of turmeric and curcumin was through the addition of piperine, an active component of black pepper. Piperine inhibits the metabolism of turmeric into components that takes place in the gut and liver. The longer the turmeric remains in the body, the greater the effect it has.1
Recent technology to promote absorption is centered on the formulation of curcumin to one that is optimized to deliver free curcumin to target tissues through permeability, solubility, and stability.1
Curcumin is relatively fragile and not easily dissolved in water, which adds to the bioavailability challenges. The latest formulas of non-generic curcumin use a process that encapsulates curcumin into solid lipid particles in order to increase the body's ability to absorb the curcumin and receive its powerful benefits.
The Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin
Is turmeric good for you? Yes, definitely. However, you should keep in mind that turmeric’s health benefits come from the curcumin it contains, so the two will be discussed together. Below, you will find even more information on the benefits related to the specific form of the supplement is taken.
Curcumin has a powerful effect on inflammation. For centuries, people have turned to turmeric powder for all types of conditions related to inflammation, such as sprained ankles and arthritis. The reason it so effective is due to its ability to decrease the levels of inflammatory cytokines and enzymes in the blood.14
The results of multiple studies published by the Arthritis Foundation indicate curcumin supplements are linked to long-term improvement in functioning and pain in patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA), as well as reduced joint pain and swelling more effectively than Diclofenac, a prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).2
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The powerful anti-inflammatory properties also make turmeric and curcumin effective to address a variety of other health conditions. Researchers believe that chronic, low-level inflammation plays a significant role in almost every chronic Western disease, including cancer, heart disease, various degenerative diseases, and Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, turmeric’s ability to fight chronic inflammation could help treat or even prevent these types of diseases.
Curcumin, in particular, helps alleviate the symptoms of several mental health conditions. Researchers have determined that curcumin helps enhance the growth of new cells in the brain (neurons) in the hippocampus, as well as other areas of the brain that play a crucial role in memory, mood, and ability to learn.
In studies where curcumin was consumed, the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) was increased, promoting connections between brain cells, while also protecting them from potential damage.3
Low BDNF levels have been linked to serious mental health conditions, such as depression, schizophrenia, dementia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In addition, curcumin gives dopamine and serotonin levels a boost. These two neurotransmitters are critical for maintaining a good mood, healthy sex drive, sharp focus, and the ability to think clearly.3
Turmeric is a promising source of important natural antioxidants. Antioxidants, such as polyphenols, flavonoids, and ascorbic acid, are responsible for stopping or preventing damage to the body’s cells by various harmful free radicals. Turmeric has high contents of each of these antioxidants, making it a powerful fighter against cell damage.4
Curcumin provides many cardiovascular benefits, including improved functioning. Researchers at Chiang Mai University published a report detailing the protective role curcumin plays in cardiovascular diseases.5
For example, curcumin helps improve crucial endothelial function. Endothelial dysfunction inhibits regulation of blood clotting and blood pressure. Both are major contributors to heart disease risk.
Curcumin also reduces inflammation, which could potentially prevent atrial arrhythmias. In addition, there is evidence that curcumin could help correct calcium homeostasis, which may help prevent ventricular arrhythmias.
Turmeric has not only been shown to lower overall blood cholesterol levels but also to keep LDL (also known as “bad cholesterol”) levels from building up in the arteries, causing atherosclerosis. Decreasing LDL levels reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Anti-Aging & The Skin
Curcumin could delay the signs of aging and help fight off age-related chronic diseases. In several promising studies, curcumin has helped extend the lifespan of model organisms, including mice and the fruit fly, by increasing the levels of the enzyme superoxide dismutase in the body.6
This enzyme fights off free radicals. This is one of the reasons that curcumin is particularly popular among individuals looking for an anti-aging supplement. In addition, turmeric gives your skin a healthy glow and luster.
Turmeric can be used to prevent acne and psoriasis flare-ups, as well as eczema and psoriasis. Turmeric gives skin a natural healthy glow and reduces the appearance of rosacea.7
Multiple studies show that curcumin has a powerful anti-cancer effect. For example, curcumin may have the potential to kill cancerous cells and to prevent new ones from growing. These changes at the molecular level could help prevent and even treat several types of cancer, which is discussed more in-depth below.8
Curcumin appears to help stop the metastasis of breast cancer. In a study performed by the University of California, researchers determined the presence of a protein molecule called Receptor Activated Nuclear Factor Kappa Ligand (RANKL), which makes breast cancer cells more aggressive and likely to spread, resulting in death.9
Curcumin has been shown to decrease RANKL in these cells, along with other tumor-promoting and inflammatory molecules in cells, such as COX-2, TGF-B1, and LOX-5.
Curcumin reduces the number of potentially cancerous lesions in the colon. In a study involving 44 men with lesions in the colon that had the potential to turn cancerous, taking 400 mg of curcumin each day for 30 days decreased the number of lesions present by 40%.10
Organ & System Health
Turmeric may help reduce the symptoms of various digestive ailments. In a report made available by the University of Maryland Medical Center, turmeric’s ability to stimulate the gallbladder to produce more bile was discussed. This can help relieve nausea, general stomach discomfort, indigestion, and belching.11
Curcumin helps reduce injury to the liver. Although studies looking into the pharmacological actions of curcumin on the liver are limited, those that have been done show promising results.
In one study, researchers determined that curcumin attenuates liver injury caused by alcohol, iron overdose, cholestasis (a condition in which the bile flowing from the liver is greatly reduced or stopped completely), and chronic injury from the compound thioacetamide. To some extent, curcumin also reverses cirrhosis of the liver.11
Turmeric effectively decreases the risk of diabetic kidney disease. In the results of a study released earlier this year, scientists found that turmeric can help prevent kidney-disease related to diabetes by reducing protein loss and keeping serum creatine levels from rising.12
According to the study, turmeric supplements were just as or more than effective at doing this than the various steroid treatments often prescribed for the problem.
Turmeric’s ability to reduce the activity and number of cytokines produced by macrophages in the body’s fat tissue gives it the ability to aid in weight loss. In turn, this reduces some of the obesity’s adverse consequences.13
Protective & Immune-Boosting Properties
Antioxidant, antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric give the immune system a boost, one of the top benefits of turmeric powder.
Turmeric has potent antiviral properties. Turmeric has demonstrated the ability to suppress multiple cytokines, present in significant amounts with persistent viral infections. When scientists introduced curcumin to a cytokine storm, a potentially fatal immune reaction related to a positive loopback between white blood cells (WBC) and cytokines, there appeared to be a disruption in this condition, although further research is planned to explore the topic further.14
Turmeric boasts surprising antifungal properties. Multiple studies have detailed how efficient turmeric is at fighting the fungus Candida albicans, as well as the resulting biofilms. In fact, researchers in one study found that the curcumin in turmeric was able to stop candida from adhering to cells in the body and was more potent than fluconazole, a prescription antifungal medication, at eradicating the fungus.14
How to Take Turmeric
After learning about just a few of the proven health benefits associated with curcumin and turmeric, you will want to know how you take it. As mentioned, the bioavailability of turmeric increases greatly with the addition of piperine, the active ingredient of black pepper.
Piperine inhibits the breakdown of turmeric into components that takes place in the gut and liver. The active ingredients in turmeric are effective when they remain in the body.
An additional barrier to the absorption of curcumin can be circumvented by consuming with a meal containing fat or oils. Some supplements do contain formulas that increase bioavailability and absorption.
As a supplement: Turmeric supplements are available in both pill and capsule form, as well as liquid drops. These supplements are made by grounding turmeric roots into a fine powder.
In the form of powder: Taking turmeric in powder form allows you to add it to different foods, such as Indian curry, and even smoothies.
In addition, the powder-form may be used to create a face mask that will help give your skin a natural glow.
Mix 1/4 tsp. turmeric powder with 1 teaspoon of honey and 1 teaspoon of milk. Apply the mask to the face for 10 minutes or until it has completely dried before wiping it away. (There is no reason to worry about staining your face, as you use just a pinch of the yellow powder.)
As a tea: There are quite a few varieties of turmeric tea on the market that you can purchase, but you also have the option of making your own, using one of the many recipes available on the internet or the recipe below.
Bring four cups of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon turmeric, reducing heat, simmering for a minimum of 10 minutes.
Use a fine sieve to strain and add lemon for taste. You may also add 1 teaspoon of ginger. Two of the great benefits of turmeric tea are the soothing effect on a sore throat and cough suppressant properties.
A Few Final Thoughts
Numerous scientific research demonstrates the effectiveness of turmeric and curcumin on protecting or even treating multiple health conditions, as well as in supporting overall health.
There are many reasons to include turmeric and curcumin in your daily diet or regimen. Turmeric and curcumin are available in multiple forms, from powdered spice used to season curries and other foods to teas, tablets, and capsules.
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