Turmeric is a member of the ginger family. Its root is ground into a vivid yellow spice used in Indian curries and other Asian dishes. Turmeric root contains a polyphenol called curcumin which has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Now modern science has begun to investigate the use of curcumin in the prevention and treatment of a range of diseases.
1. Heart Disease
Curcumin protects against heart disease in several ways. It reduces inflammatory damage to the heart and blood vessels, lowers LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol, and helps to prevent blood clots from forming. Rodent studies have shown that curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties can help prevent heart enlargement and heart failure in subjects with high blood pressure.
A study from Thailand focused on patients who had suffered a recent heart attack following a coronary artery bypass. Those given four grams of curcumin daily decreased their incidence of future heart attacks by over two and a half times compared to patients not receiving curcumin.
The curcumin in Tumeric is a potent anti-inflammatory that can help to relieve arthritis symptoms such as tenderness, pain, and swelling. One study found that highly bioavailable form curcumin was more effective at alleviating the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis than the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug Voltaren. The curcumin also proved to be safer. No one in the curcumin group withdrew from the study due to adverse side effects, but 14% of those in the Voltaren group did so.
The anti-inflammatory action of curcumin relieves inflammation of the airways and lining of the lungs associated with asthma. A number of rodent studies have found that turmeric inhibits asthmatic airway constriction. In a study on human asthma patients, all of the participants received the same standard drug treatment to control their asthma symptoms. Half of them were also given one 500mg curcumin capsule a day. After 30 days, the curcumin group showed significant improvement in airway obstruction (as measured by mean FEV1 values) and in blood parameters. Researchers concluded that curcumin is effective and safe as an add-on therapy for the treatment of bronchial asthma.
Curcumin is a strong antioxidant, protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals. Test-tube and animal studies suggest that curcumin may help prevent or treat breast, prostate, colon, stomach, skin, and other types of cancer. Curcumin interferes with a number of molecular pathways involved in cancer development, growth, and spread. It can kill cancer cells in laboratory dishes and slow the growth of the surviving cells.
It has also been shown to inhibit metastases and prevent the regrowth of cancer stem cells. Studies on humans are still in their early stages. A phase I clinical trial on patients with pre-cancerous changes in different organs seemed to show that curcumin could stop these changes from developing into cancer.
Curcumin may help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The rate of Alzheimer’s in the US is four times greater than in India, where Turmeric is frequently consumed in curries. An epidemiological study found that elderly Asians who reported that they ate curry ‘often’ had significantly better scores on the MMSE test (used to diagnose dementia) than those who ‘never or rarely’ ate curry. Studies using tissue cultures and lab animals have shown that curcumin inhibits the formation of neurofibrillary tangles of beta-amyloid protein in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
Curcumin can be effective at controlling the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, better known as hay fever. In an allergic response, the immune system produces a type of white blood cells called mast cells which release large amounts of histamine. The histamine reaction causes symptoms such as nasal congestion, itchy eyes, and sneezing.
Research has shown that curcumin combats allergies in two ways. It protects the immune system from responding to common allergens such as dust and pollen. It also blocks mast cells from releasing histamine.
Research shows that curcumin can be as effective as Prozac for treating depression. An Indian study observed 60 patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder. In a randomized controlled clinical trial, participants were given either 20mg of fluoxetine (Prozac) or 1000mg curcumin for six weeks. Participant’s responses to the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale were recorded at the beginning and end of the study.
After six weeks, both groups showed similar improvement. Laboratory studies suggest that curcumin may relieve symptoms of depression by helping to regulate dopamine and serotonin in the brain and inhibiting an enzyme that plays a role in breaking down these neurotransmitters.
Tumeric on its own is poorly absorbed by the body and will not give you the full benefits of curcumin. The active ingredient in black pepper, piperine is thought to increase curcumin’s bioavailability. If you plan to take turmeric supplements, look for ones containing piperine. You can increase the absorption of curcumin from your food by premixing pepper into your turmeric powder. Use about a ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper in 1/4 cup of turmeric.
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