by Life Enthusiast Staff
A uniquely valuable and superbly powerful antioxidant. Research indicates it to be a cancer preventative, a valuable anti-cholesterol factor and for enhanced blood oxygenation and as a liver protective. Helps convert excessive fat into energy. Long used in folk medicine to reduce toxic chain reaction of arthritis. Promotes good digestion. Immune assisting (especially in hepatitis).
Turmeric (Curcuma longa), the bright yellow of the spice rainbow, is a powerful medicine that has long been used in the Chinese and Indian systems of medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent to treat a wide variety of conditions, including flatulence, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, bloody urine, hemorrhage, toothache, bruises, chest pain, and colic.
A Potent, Yet Safe Anti-inflammatory
The volatile oil fraction of turmeric has been demonstrated significant anti-inflammatory activity in a variety of experimental models. Even more potent than its volatile oil is the yellow or orange pigment of turmeric, which is called curcumin. Curcumin is thought to be the primary pharmacological agent in turmeric. In numerous studies, curcumin's anti-inflammatory effects have been shown to be comparable to the potent drugs hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone as well as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory agents such as Motrin. Unlike the drugs, which are associated with significant toxic effects (ulcer formation, decreased white blood cell count, intestinal bleeding), curcumin produces no toxicity.
An Effective Treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Curcumin may provide an inexpensive, well-tolerated, and effective treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis, recent research suggests. In this study, mice given an inflammatory agent that normally induces colitis were protected when curcumin was added to their diet five days beforehand. The mice receiving curcumin not only lost much less weight than the control animals, but when researchers checked their intestinal cell function, all the signs typical of colitis - mucosal ulceration, thickening of the intestinal wall, and the infiltration of inflammatory cells - were all much reduced. While the researchers are not yet sure exactly how curcumin achieves its protective effects, they think its benefits are the result of not only antioxidant activity, but also inhibition of a major cellular inflammatory agent called NF kappa-B. Plus, an important part of the good news reported in this study is the fact that although curcumin has been found to be safe at very large doses, this component of turmeric was effective at a concentration as low as 0.25 per cent - an amount easily supplied by simply enjoying turmeric in flavorful curries. (October 24, 2003)
Relief for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Clinical studies have substantiated that curcumin also exerts very powerful antioxidant effects. As an antioxidant, curcumin is able to neutralize free radicals, chemicals that can travel through the body and cause great amounts of damage to healthy cells and cell membranes. This is important in many diseases, such as arthritis, where free radicals are responsible for the painful joint inflammation and eventual damage to the joints. Turmeric's combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects explains why many people with joint disease find relief when they use the spice regularly. In a recent study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin was compared to phenylbutazone and produced comparable improvements in shortened duration of morning stiffness, lengthened walking time, and reduced joint swelling.
Help for Cystic Fibrosis Sufferers
Curcumin, the major constituent of turmeric that gives the spice its yellow color, can correct the most common expression of the genetic defect that is responsible for cystic fibrosis, suggests an animal study published in the April 2004 issue of Science. Cystic fibrosis, a fatal disease that attacks the lungs with a thick mucus, causing life-threatening infections, afflicts about 30,000 American children and young adults, who rarely survive beyond 30 years of age. The mucus also damages the pancreas, thus interfering with the body's ability to digest and absorb nutrients.
Researchers now know that cystic fibrosis is caused by mutations in the gene that encodes for a protein (the transmembrane conductance regulator or CFTR). The CTFR protein is responsible for traveling to the cell's surface and creating channels through which chloride ions can leave the cell. When the protein is abnormally shaped because of a faulty gene, this cannot happen, so chloride builds up in the cells, which in turn, leads to mucus production.
The most common mutation, which is called DeltaF508, results in the production of a misfolded protein. When mice with this DeltaF508 defect were given curcumin in doses that, on a weight-per-weight basis, would be well-tolerated by humans, curcumin corrected this defect, resulting in a DeltaF508 protein with normal appearance and function. In addition, the Yale scientists studying curcumin have shown that it can inhibit the release of calcium, thus allowing mutated CTFR to exit cells via the calcium channels, which also helps stop the chloride-driven build up of mucus. Specialists in the treatment of cystic fibrosis caution, however, that patients should not self-medicate with dietary supplements containing curcumin, until the correct doses are known and any adverse interactions identified with the numerous prescription drugs taken by cystic fibrosis sufferers. (June 3, 2004)
Curcumin's antioxidant actions enable it to protect the colon cells from free radicals that can damage cellular DNA--a significant benefit particularly in the colon where cell turnover is quite rapid, occurring approximately every three days. Because of their frequent replication, mutations in the DNA of colon cells can result in the formation of cancerous cells much more quickly. Curcumin also helps the body to destroy mutated cancer cells, so they cannot spread through the body and cause more harm. A primary way in which curcumin does so is by enhancing liver function. Additionally, other suggested mechanisms by which it may protect against cancer development include inhibiting the synthesis of a protein thought to be instrumental in tumor formation and preventing the development of additional blood supply necessary for cancer cell growth.
Reduce Risk of Childhood Leukemia
Research presented at a recent conference on childhood leukemia, held in London, provides evidence that eating foods spiced with turmeric could reduce the risk of developing childhood leukemia. The incidence of this cancer has risen dramatically during the 20th century, mainly in children under age five, among whom the risk has increased by more than 50% cent since 1950 alone. Modern environmental and lifestyle factors are thought to play a major role in this increase.
Childhood leukemia is much lower in Asia than Western countries, which may be due to differences in diet, one of which, the frequent use of turmeric, has been investigated in a series of studies over the last 20 years by Prof. Moolky Nagabhushan from the Loyola University Medical Centre, Chicago, IL.
"Some of the known risk factors that contribute to the high incidence of childhood leukemia are the interaction of many lifestyle and environmental factors. These include prenatal or postnatal exposure to radiation, benzene, environmental pollutants and alkylating chemotherapeutic drugs. Our studies show that turmeric - and its coloring principle, curcumin - in the diet mitigate the effects of some of these risk factors."
Nagabhushan has shown that the curcumin in turmeric can:
- inhibit the mutagenicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (carcinogenic chemicals created by the burning of carbon based fuels including cigarette smoke)
- inhibit radiation-induced chromosome damage
- prevent the formation of harmful heterocyclic amines and nitroso compounds, which may result in the body when certain processed foods, such as processed meat products that contain nitrosamines, are eaten
- irreversibly inhibit the multiplication of leukemia cells in a cell culture
(October 21, 2004)
Improved Liver Function
In a recent rat study that was conducted to evaluate the effects of turmeric on the liver's ability to detoxify xenobiotic (toxic) chemicals, levels of two very important liver detoxification enzymes (UDP glucuronyl transferase and glutathione-S-transferase) were significantly elevated in rats fed turmeric as compared to controls. The researchers commented, "The results suggest that turmeric may increase detoxification systems in addition to its anti-oxidant properties...Turmeric used widely as a spice would probably mitigate the effects of several dietary carcinogens."
Curcumin has been shown to prevent colon cancer in rodent studies. When researchers set up a study to analyze how curcumin works, they found that it inhibits free radical damage of fats (such as those found in cell membranes and cholesterol), prevents the formation of the inflammatory chemical cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), and induces the formation of a primary liver detoxification enzyme, glutathione S-transferase (GST) enzymes. When the rats were given curcumin for 14 days, their livers' production of GST increased by 16%, and a marker of free radical damage called malondialdehyde decreased by 36% when compared with controls. During this two week period, the researchers gave the rats a cancer-causing chemical called carbon tetrachloride. In the rats not fed curcumin, markers of free radical damage to colon cells went up, but in the rats given turmeric, this increase was prevented by dietary curcumin. Lastly, the researchers compared giving turmeric in the diet versus injecting curcumin into the rats' colons. They found injecting curcumin resulted in more curcumin in the blood, but much less in the colon mucosa. They concluded, "The results show that curcumin mixed with the diet achieves drug levels in the colon and liver sufficient to explain the pharmacological activities observed and suggest that this mode of administration may be preferable for the chemoprevention of colon cancer."
Curcumin may be able to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the body. Since oxidized cholesterol is what damages blood vessels and builds up in the plaques that can lead to heart attack or stroke, preventing the oxidation of new cholesterol may help to reduce the progression of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. In addition, turmeric is a good source of vitamin B6, which is needed to keep homocysteine levels from getting too high. Homocysteine, an intermediate product of an important cellular process called methylation, is directly damaging to blood vessel walls. High levels of homocysteine are considered a significant risk factor for blood vessel damage, atherosclerotic plaque build-up, and heart disease; while a high intake of vitamin B6 is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Protection against Alzheimer's Disease
There is growing evidence to suggest that turmeric may afford protection against neuro-degenerative diseases. Epidemiological studies show that in elderly Indian populations, among whose diet turmeric is a common spice, levels of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's are very low. Concurrently, experimental research conducted recently found that curcumin does appear to slow the progression of Alzheimer's in mice. Preliminary studies in mice also suggest that curcumin may block the progression of multiple sclerosis. While it is still unclear how it may afford protection against this degenerative condition, one theory is that it may interrupt the production of IL-2, a protein that can play a key role in the destruction of myelin, the sheath that serves to protect most nerves in the body.
A number of studies have suggested that curcumin, the biologically active constituent in turmeric, protects against Alzheimer's disease by turning on a gene that codes for the production of antioxidant proteins. A study published December 2003 in the Italian Journal of Biochemistry discussed curcumin's role in the induction of the the heme oxygenase pathway, a protective system that, when triggered in brain tissue, causes the production of the potent antioxidant bilirubin, which protects the brain against oxidative (free radical) injury. Such oxidation is thought to be a major factor in aging and to be responsible for neuro-degenerative disorders including dementias like Alzheimer's disease. Curcumin prevents the progression of the amyloid protein plaques, which destroy neurons in your brain. The more you eat, the better your protection.
Now, another study conducted jointly by an Italian and U.S. team and presented at the American Physiological Society's annual scientific conference, held April 17-21, 2004 in Washington, DC, has confirmed that curcumin strongly induces expression of the gene, called hemeoxygenase-1 (HO-1) in astrocytes from the hippocampal region of the brain. The researchers are hopeful that dietary supplementation with antioxidants such as vitamin E and polyphenolic agents like curcumin may be able to delay or even prevent the development of Alzheimer's disease. (June 3, 2004)
Curcumin has been shown to influence more than 700 genes, with benefits that
• Strengthening and improving your digestion
• Supporting healthy liver function and detoxification
• Purifying your blood
• Fighting cancer and arthritis
• Anti-inflammatory properties
Turmeric may play a beneficial role in the following diseases:
• Cystic fibrosis
• Type 2 diabetes
• Crohn’s disease
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Muscle regeneration
• Inflammatory bowel disease
Turmeric was traditionally called "Indian saffron" since its deep yellow-orange color is similar to that of the prized saffron. It has been used throughout history as a condiment, healing remedy and textile dye.
Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant and has a tough brown skin and a deep orange flesh. This herb has a very interesting taste and aroma. Its flavor is peppery, warm and bitter while its fragrance is mild yet slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger, to which it is related.
Turmeric Main Benefits
Strengthens and improves digestion
- Reduces gas and bloating
- Assists in the digestion of protein and with rice and bean dishes
- Improves your body's ability to digest fats
- Promotes proper metabolism, correcting both excesses and deficiencies
- Maintains and improves intestinal flora
- Improves elimination of wastes and toxins
Supports healthy liver function and detox
- Turmeric helps increase bile flow making it a liver cleanser that can rejuvenate your liver cells and recharge their capability to break down toxins
- Helps to prevent alcohol and other toxins from being converted into compounds that may be harmful to your liver
- Supports formation of healthy tissue
Purifies your blood
- Stimulates formation of new blood tissue
- Anti-inflammatory: Helps to reduce irritation to tissues characterized by pain, redness, swelling and heat
Contains curcuminoids that fight cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s
- Curcuminoids are potent phytonutrients (plant-based nutrients) that contain powerful antioxidant properties
- Counteract the damaging effects of free radicals in your body
- Relieve arthritis pain and stiffness, anti-inflammatory agent
- Anti-carcinogenic: "Curcumin has been shown to prevent a large of number of cancers in animal studies. Laboratory data indicate that curcumin can inhibit tumor initiation, promotion, invasion, angiogenesis and metastasis.”
- Supports treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: "Because Alzheimer's disease is caused in part by amyloid-induced inflammation, curcumin has been shown to be effective against Alzheimer's. Clinical trials are in progress at UCLA with curcumin for Alzheimer's.”
Curcumin: Turmeric’s Active Anti-Inflammatory "Ingredient”
Most notably turmeric is known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties, which come from curcumin - the pigment that gives turmeric its yellow-orange color, and which is thought to be responsible for many of its medicinal effects. There are an estimated three to five grams of curcumin in 100 grams of turmeric.
Curcumin has been shown to influence more than 700 genes, and it can inhibit both the activity and the synthesis of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2) and 5-lipooxygenase (5-LOX), as well as other enzymes that have been implicated in inflammation.
Turmeric’s Cancer-Fighting Properties
In India where turmeric is widely used, the prevalence of four common U.S. cancers - colon, breast, prostate and lung - is 10 times lower. In fact, prostate cancer, which is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in U.S. men, is rare in India and this is attributed, in part, to turmeric.
Numerous studies have looked into this potential cancer-fighting link, with promising results. For instance, curcumin has been found to:
- Inhibit the proliferation of tumor cells
- Inhibit the transformation of cells from normal to tumor
- Help your body destroy mutated cancer cells so they cannot spread throughout your body
- Decrease inflammation
- Enhance liver function
- Inhibit the synthesis of a protein thought to be instrumental in tumor formation
- Prevent the development of additional blood supply necessary for cancer cell growth
As for the results of research studies, a study in Biochemical Pharmacology found that curcumin can slow the spread of breast cancer cells to the lungs in mice.
"Curcumin acts against transcription factors, which are like a master switch," said lead researcher, Bharat Aggarwal. "Transcription factors regulate all the genes needed for tumors to form. When we turn them off, we shut down some genes that are involved in the growth and invasion of cancer cells."
A second study in Biochemical Pharmacology also found that curcumin inhibits the activation of NF-kappaB, a regulatory molecule that signals genes to produce a slew of inflammatory molecules (including TNF, COX-2 and IL-6) that promote cancer cell growth.
Turmeric’s Essential Role for Your Liver
Your liver’s primary role is to process and remove toxins carried in your bloodstream. When functioning at its peak, it can filter up to two liters of blood per minute and easily break apart toxic molecules to reduce their toxicity. Your liver is also a crucial part of vitamin, mineral, protein, fat, carbohydrate and hormonal metabolism.
However, poor diet, allergens, pollution and stress can cause your liver to become sluggish, and this can impair its vital functions. This is where turmeric can be a very useful part of your liver support system. Studies have shown that it:
- May increase important detoxification enzymes in your liver
- Induces the formation of a primary liver detoxification enzyme, glutathione S-transferase (GST) enzymes
Turmeric is also a natural cholagogue, a medicinal agent that promotes the discharge of bile from your system. Increased bile flow is important to help your liver detoxify and to help your body digest fats.
Turmeric for Your Heart, Brain and Overall Health
Turmeric inhibits free radical damage of fats, including cholesterol. When cholesterol is damaged in this way, or oxidized, it can then damage your blood vessels and lead to a heart attack or stroke. Therefore, research suggests that turmeric’s ability to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol may be beneficial for your heart. It’s also rich in vitamin B6, high intakes of which are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Meanwhile, turmeric appears to be highly protective against neurodegenerative diseases. In fact, in India levels of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s are very low, and studies have shown that curcumin can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s in mice. The compound has also proven capable of blocking the progression of multiple sclerosis.
Further, Professor Moolky Nagabhushan from the Loyola University Medical Center, Chicago, IL, who has been studying turmeric for the last 20 years, believes that turmeric can protect against harmful environmental chemicals, and in so doing protect against childhood leukemia. The research showed that curcumin in turmeric can:
- Inhibit the toxicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (cancer-causing chemicals in the environment)
- Inhibit radiation-induced chromosome damage
- Prevent the formation of harmful heterocyclic amines and nitroso compounds, which may result in the body when eating certain processed foods, such as processed meat products
- Irreversibly inhibit the multiplicationof leukemia cells in a cell culture
Turmeric's volatile oils also have external anti-bacterial action. As such, they may help prevent bacterial wound infections and accelerate wound healing. Johnson & Johnson even sells a curcumin-containing Band-Aid in India!
And the therapeutic potential of turmeric and curcumin do not end there. Evidence suggests the spice may also be beneficial for:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Type 2 diabetes
- Crohn’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Muscle regeneration
- Inflammatory bowel disease