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 Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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