Curcumin (Turmeric) Benefits
Curcuma longa, better known as turmeric, is a flowering plant native to southern India and Indonesia. Turmeric has a long history throughout Asia and is used extensively in Asian cuisine and may be best known for its use in curry. Most people think of turmeric solely as a common household spice used for cooking, but what many people may not know, however, is that turmeric—and especially its most active compound, curcumin—have many scientific health benefits including anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidant effects, neuroprotective benefits, and natural anti-depressant properties.
Turmeric and its bioactive component, curcumin, have long been used in Asian medicine for their powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Research shows that chronic inflammation can cause an array of diseases including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and bowel diseases. Various clinical studies, however, are testing the powers of curcumin against these inflammatory diseases and their unwanted symptoms. Curcumin has been shown to block and inhibit cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), lipoxygenase (LOX), and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS)—enzymes that mediate inflammatory processes. An irregular upregulation of COX-2 and/or iNOS has been associated with certain types of cancers and various inflammatory diseases.
In one study of patients with ulcerative colitis—a chronic, inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract—those who consumed 2 grams of curcumin a day along with prescription medication were less likely to relapse than those in the placebo group. The use of curcumin as a supplement to aid in a wide range of human diseases has been proven again and again in a multitude of completed clinical trials. The outcome of most of these studies suggest that curcumin seems to be a promising, safe and well-tolerable supplement for those experiencing cancer and inflammatory diseases.
High in Antioxidants
Oxidative stress—an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can result in cell and tissue damage—is one of today’s most brutal, silent killers of humankind. Factors that may contribute to oxidative stress include obesity, poor diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, and/or exposure to radiation, pollution, pesticides or industrial chemicals. Prolonged oxidative stress can result in an array of health conditions, ranging from cancer to cardiovascular disease. Fortunate for us, consuming foods rich in antioxidants, such as dark chocolate, berries and—surprise, surprise—turmeric, can help increase your blood antioxidant levels to combat oxidative stress and reduce the risk of disease.
Various animal and cellular studies suggest that curcumin may block the action of several free radicals that cause oxidative damage, such as reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS), while also stimulating the action of your body’s own naturally occurring antioxidant enzymes. Not only does curcumin help stop cell deterioration, it also helps the body protect itself more effectively.
Because of curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties, it may protect the brain from neurodegeneration as well as improve memory and focus. Various epidemiological studies indicate a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and overall better cognitive performance in those who frequently consume curry; of which turmeric is the main ingredient. In India and other Asian countries—where there is typically the highest intake of turmeric—the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease among adults aged 70-79 years in India is 4.4 times less than that of adults aged 70-79 in the United States. Researchers also investigated the association of curry consumption and cognitive level in over 1,000 Asian citizens aged between 60-93 years. Those who consumed curry frequently (more than once and month) and occasionally (once a month) performed better on a standard test of cognitive function than those who never or rarely ate curry.
Other studies have found that curcumin may increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein in the brain and spinal cord that promotes the survival and growth of neurons. The BDNF protein plays an important role in memory and learning and can protect the brain from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. A combination of curcumin’s anti-inflammatory and BDNF boosting properties makes this spice effective in boosting brain health.
Major depression, or major depressive disorder (MDD), is one of the most prevalent and debilitating disorders worldwide. Given its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective properties, it has been hypothesized that curcumin may be an effective treatment of depression. Like Alzheimer’s, depression is also associated with lower levels of BDNF and, considering that curcumin can boost BDNF levels, the spice may be promising as an antidepressant. In addition, researches found that turmeric may boost happy hormones. Studies in various animal models found that curcumin inhibits the activity of both MAO-A and MAO-B enzymes, which are involved in the degradation of norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine.
A six-week study done in 2014 by Phytotherapy Research was also able to successfully show curcumin’s ability to act as an antidepressant in humans. In this study, researchers assigned 60 patients diagnosed with MDD to one of three groups: one group received 20mg of a pharmaceutical drug called fluoxetine (more commonly known as Prozac), another group received 1,000mg of curcumin, and a third received a combination of the two. By the end of the study, results showed that each group saw comparable improvements.
As natural herbal remedies are becoming more prevalent as alternative medicine in western society, people are experiencing a new perspective on common household spices and herbs, such as turmeric. Turmeric and its star compound, curcumin, have been used for centuries in Asian cultures for its medicinal properties. Through various clinical trials and studies, it has been discovered that curcumin contains anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective properties and, thus, proves to be an effective and safe supplement for a wide array of diseases. So next time you take a look in your spice cupboard, say thanks for the delicious flavor and powerful medicinal benefits they offer.
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