Top 10 Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin
By Kris Gunnars
Although most nutritional supplements are ineffective, this is not the case with turmeric. Many high quality studies show that it has major benefits for your body and brain.
Here are the top 10 evidence-based health benefits of turmeric.
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1. Turmeric Contains Bioactive Compounds With Powerful Medicinal Properties
Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow color. It has been used in India for thousands of years as a spice and medicinal herb. Recently, science has started to back up what the Indians have known for a long time … it really does contain compounds with medicinal properties.
These compounds are called curcuminoids, the most important of which is curcumin. Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. However, the curcumin content of turmeric is not that high; it's around 3 percent, by weight.
Most of the studies on this herb are using turmeric extracts that contain mostly curcumin itself, with dosages usually exceeding 1 gram per day. It would be very difficult to reach these levels just using turmeric in your foods. Therefore, if you want to experience the full effects, then you need to take a turmeric extract that contains significant amounts of curcumin.
Unfortunately, curcumin is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. It helps to consume black pepper with it, which contains piperine, a natural substance that enhances the absorption of curcumin by 2000 percent.
I personally prefer to swallow a few whole peppercorns along with my curcumin supplement, to get that piperine to enhance absorption.
Curcumin is also fat soluble, so it may be a good idea to take it with a fatty meal.
Bottom Line: Turmeric is high in curcumin, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Most studies used turmeric extracts that are standardized to include large amounts of curcumin.
2. Curcumin Is a Potent, 100 Percent Natural Anti-Inflammatory Compound
Inflammation is incredibly important. It helps the body fight foreign invaders and also has a role in repairing damaged tissues. Without inflammation, pathogens like bacteria and fungi could easily take over our bodies and kill us.
Although acute (short-term) inflammation is beneficial, it can become a major problem when it is chronic (long-term) and inappropriately deployed against the body's own tissues. It is now believed that chronic, low-level inflammation plays a major role in almost every chronic, Western disease. This includes heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer's and various degenerative conditions.
Therefore, anything that can help fight chronic, low-level inflammation is of potential importance in preventing and even treating these diseases. It turns out that curcumin is strongly anti-inflammatory; it is so powerful that it matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs.
Curcumin actually targets multiple steps in the inflammatory pathway, at the molecular level. Curcumin blocks NF-kB, a molecule that travels into the nuclei of cells and turns on various genes related to inflammation. NF-kB is believed to play a major role in many chronic diseases. It also downregulates some inflammatory enzymes, including cyclooxygenase, which is also the target of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Without getting into the gory details (inflammation is extremely complicated), the key takeaway here is that curcumin is a highly bioactive substance that fights inflammation at the molecular level.
Bottom Line: Chronic inflammation is known to be a contributor to many common Western diseases. Curcumin can inhibit many molecules and enzymes known to play major roles in inflammation.
3. Turmeric Dramatically Increases the Antioxidant Capacity of the Body
Oxidative damage is believed to be one of the mechanisms behind aging and many diseases. It involves free radicals, highly reactive molecules with unpaired electrons. Free radicals tend to react with important organic substances, such as fatty acids, proteins or DNA.
The main reason antioxidants are so beneficial is that they protect our bodies from free radicals and oxidative damage. Turmeric happens to contain potent antioxidants. The most important antioxidant in it is curcumin itself.
Curcumin can scavenge and neutralize free radicals on its own, due to its chemical structure. But curcumin also boosts the activity of the body's own antioxidant enzymes, including glutathione peroxidase, catalase and superoxide dismutase. In that way, curcumin delivers a one-two punch against oxidative damage. It blocks free radicals directly, then stimulates the body's own antioxidant mechanisms.
Bottom Line: Curcumin has powerful antioxidant effects. It neutralizes free radicals on its own, then stimulates the body's own antioxidant enzymes.
4. Curcumin Boosts Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, Linked to Improved Brain Function and a Lower Risk of Brain Diseases
Back in the day, it was believed that neurons weren't able to divide and multiply after early childhood. However, it is now known that this does happen.
The neurons are capable of forming new connections (called synapses), but in certain areas of the brain, they can also multiply and increase in number. One of the main drivers of this process is Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which is a type of growth hormone that functions in the brain.
Interestingly, curcumin can increase blood and brain levels of BDNF. By doing this, it may be effective at delaying or even reversing many brain diseases and age-related decreases in brain function. There is also the possibility that it could help improve memory and make you smarter. Makes sense given its effects on BDNF levels, but this definitely needs to be tested in human controlled trials.
Bottom Line: Curcumin can boost levels of the brain hormone BDNF, which increases the growth of new neurons and fight various degenerative processes in the brain.
5. Curcumin Leads to Various Improvements That Should Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease
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Heart disease is the biggest killer in the world. It has been intensively studied for many decades and researchers have learned a lot about how it happens. It turns out that heart disease is incredibly complicated and there are various processes that contribute to it.
Curcumin has been shown to be of use in reversing many steps in the pathological process of heart disease. Perhaps the main benefit of curcumin when it comes to heart disease is improving the function of the endothelium, which is the lining of the blood vessels. It is well known that endothelial dysfunction is a major driver of heart disease and involves an inability of the endothelium to regulate blood pressure, blood clotting and various other factors.
Several studies suggest that curcumin leads to improvements in endothelial function. One study shows that is as effective as exercise, another shows that it works as well as the drug Atorvastatin. But curcumin also reduces inflammation and oxidation (as discussed above), which are also important in heart disease.
In one study, 121 patients who were undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery were randomized to either placebo or 4 grams of curcumin per day, a few days before and after the surgery. The curcumin group had a 65 percent decreased risk of experiencing a heart attack in the hospital.
Bottom Line: Curcumin has beneficial effects on several factors known to play a role in heart disease. It improves the function of the endothelium and is a potent anti-inflammatory agent and antioxidant.
6. Turmeric Can Help Prevent (And Perhaps Even Treat) Cancer
Cancer is a terrible disease, characterized by uncontrolled growth of cells. There are many different forms of cancer, but they do have several commonalities, some of which appear to be affected by curcumin supplementation.
Researchers have been studying curcumin as a beneficial herb in cancer treatment. It can affect cancer growth, development and spread at the molecular level. Studies have shown that it can reduce angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels in tumors), metastasis (spread of cancer), as well as contributing to the death of cancerous cells. Multiple studies have shown that curcumin can reduce the growth of cancerous cells in the laboratory and inhibit the growth of tumors in test animals.
Whether high-dose curcumin (preferably with an absorption enhancer like pepper) can help treat cancer in humans has yet to be tested properly.However, there is some evidence that it may help prevent cancer from occurring in the first place, especially cancers of the digestive system (like colorectal cancer)–where the concentration of curcumin is highest.
In one phase IIa clinical trial in 44 men with lesions in the colon that sometimes turn cancerous, 4 grams of curcumin per day for 30 days reduced the number of these lesions by 40 percent.
Maybe one day, curcumin will be used along with conventional cancer treatment. It's too early to say for sure, but it looks promising and this is currently being intensively studied.
Bottom Line: Curcumin leads to several changes on the molecular level that may help prevent and perhaps even treat cancer.
7. Curcumin May Be Useful in Preventing and Treating Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease in the world and a leading cause of dementia. Unfortunately, no good treatment is available for Alzheimer's yet. Therefore, preventing it from showing up in the first place is of utmost importance.
There may be good news on the horizon, because curcumin has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier.
It is known that inflammation and oxidative damage play a role in Alzheimer's disease. As we know, curcumin has beneficial effects on both.
Whether curcumin can really slow down or even reverse the progression of Alzheimer's disease needs to be studied properly.
Bottom Line: Curcumin can cross the blood-brain barrier and has been shown to lead to various improvements in the pathological process of Alzheimer's disease.
8. Arthritis Patients Respond Very Well to Curcumin Supplementation
Arthritis is a common problem in Western countries. There are several different types, but most involve some sort of inflammation in the joints.
Given that curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory, it makes sense that it could help with arthritis. Several studies show this to be true. In a pilot study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin was even more effective than diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Many other studies have looked at the effects of curcumin on arthritis and noted improvements in various symptoms.
Bottom Line: Arthritis is a common disorder characterized by joint inflammation. Many studies show that curcumin can help treat symptoms of arthritis and is in some cases more effective than anti-inflammatory drugs.
9. Studies Show That Curcumin Has Incredible Benefits Against Depression
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Curcumin has shown some promise in treating depression, an incredibly common disorder.
In a controlled trial, 60 patients were randomized into three groups. One group took prozac, another group took a gram of curcumin and the third group took both prozac and curcumin. After six weeks, curcumin had lead to improvements that were similar to prozac. The group that took both prozac and curcumin fared best. According to this (small) study, curcumin is as effective as an SSRI antidepressant.
Depression is also linked to reduced levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and a shrinking hippocampus, a brain area with a role in learning and memory. Curcumin boosts BNDF levels, potentially reversing some of these changes.
Bottom Line: A study in 60 depressed patients showed that curcumin was as effective as prozac in alleviating the symptoms of depression.
10. Curcumin May Help Delay Aging and Fight Age-Related Chronic Diseases
If curcumin can really help prevent heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's, then this would have obvious benefits for longevity. For this reason, it has become very popular as an anti-aging supplement.
But given that oxidation and inflammation are believed to play a role in aging, curcumin may have effects that go way beyond just prevention of disease.
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
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The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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