Also called "the spice of life", curcumin comes from the Ginger family and it is mainly found in Asian countries (China, India, Indonesia, and other tropical areas). It has many culinary uses... but what makes it really interesting is its medicinal properties, which are the reason why it has been used for centuries to treat different disorders.
Curcumin prevents inflammation at a cell level, and thus can avoid many chronic diseases
Curcumin is not just one ingredient for curry that provides the yellow color, but this plant also has a very powerful active ingredient that protects each cell from the body. Curcumin prevents inflammation at a cell level and it can help to prevent many chronic diseases.
The benefits from curcumin are so varied that it has a possitive effect on almost all of the organs of the body. Among other things, curcumin has antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal properties.
It provides a strong cardiovascular protection and can help to fight other diseases like cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson. Curcumin also looks very promising with regard to the treatment of multiple sclerosis as well as for protecting against cataracts and repairing some damages caused by sugar levels in blood in diabetic people.
Curcumin can also be used to treat skin diseases like psoriasis or injuries. It has been even proven that it is very promising in order to combat cystic fibrosis.
What is the difference between Turmeric and Curcumin?
We must learn the difference between the turmeric root and its most beneficial component, curcumin.
Turmeric is a very well-known plant in India. Its root is harvested, cleaned, dried, and turned into powder like a spice (turmeric gives curry its famous yellow color) and it is used as a medicine. Traditionally, turmeric has been used against all kind of diseases, from a smallpox to an ankle sprain.
1. The key to all its benefits lies in one of its components, known as curcumin, which is found in the turmeric root and it has a bright yellow color. Tumeric, like oranges, is an important source of vitamin C.
But it is not enough to use turmeric powder as a medicine (the same way as you would not just eat oranges when you have a cold). Curcumin obtained from turmeric root can be used as a natural remedy to prevent cancer, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, and many other chronic diseases.
1. Curcumin - Efficient prevention against cancer
Generally, scientists do all they can to avoid exaggeration when it comes to describing their study subjects, but the amazing properties of curcumin allow them to claim that “Curcumin seems to meet all the requirements of a polyvalent medicine developed in a laboratory.”
Some researches have focused on its promising benefits against cancer. “Curcumin is one of the most efficient chemopreventing agents against cancer”, they stated in India last year. “Its biological effects go from anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to inhibit angiogenesis, to its specific anti-cancer activity.”
Even though some medicines against cancer tend to weaken the immune system, this does not happen with curcumin, because it works as an "immune system restorer". For this reason, one of the most studied aspects of curcumine is its benefits to prevent and treat cancer.
Some american researchers from "Cancer Letters" have recently observed that clinical studies on several cancer types, including breast cancer, womb, colon, stomach, liver, leukaemia, mouth, pancreas, ovary, and prostate, have proven curcumin's effects to fight cancer.
Other researchers have said that "cancer has 3 stages: beginning, development, and progress" and curcumin has proven to have useful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer properties in all the stages.
Curcumin and its specific mechanism against cancer
In 2007, scientists of the Alabama University in Birmingham, published a report in the "Cancer Research" journal that reveals that curcumin is one of the most useful and efficient medicines against cancer.
Researchers have subjected prostate cancer cells to different concentrations of curcumin. The result is the following:
Curcumine reduces the production of the protein MDM2, which is associated with the formation of malign tumors.
At the same time, curcumin encourages the cells to produce new proteins to fight against programmed cell death (apoptosis). The defective relationship of NF-kB, which triggers inflammation, could be involved in MDM2 generation. This has been proposed for a new research challenge to treat cancer in human beings. In order to test the effects of curcumin on a living being, the researchers inserted prostate cancer cells in mice, which later developed the tumors.
For the purpose of this study, the mice receive curcumin or a placebo five days a week during four weeks.
The mice which were given curcumin were divided into 3 groups.
One group only was given curcumine, while the second group was also given gemcitabine, a characteristic medicine of chemotherapy.
The last group was given curcumin and a radiation treatment.
The researchers' conclusion was that: curcumin inhibited the development of cancer and improved the anticancer effects of gemcitabine and radiotherapy. Tumors reduced the increase of MDM2.
This reduction or "suppression" of MDM2 has been designed as a recently discovered mechanism through which curcumnin performs its anticancer function.
Researches concluded that a low MDM2 regulation through curcumin "could be a decisive factor for its chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic effects.”
In relation to this, epidemiological studies show that the number of prostate cancer cases among men in India is one of the lowest in the world.
A recent study estimates that the annual rate of prostate cancer in India is between a 5.0% and 9.1%.
On the other hand, prostate cancer in white men in the United States is a 110.4% higher annually compared to men in India. And the rate of Afroamerican men is even higher.
Maybe it is no coincidence that a constant intake of turmeric, through curry, in Indian men is one of the highest in the world. The Indian population consumes an average of 2-2.5g/day of turmeric, which supplies between 60-200mg of curcumin daily.
Curcumin and pancreas cancer
Curcumin has also proven that it can improve the efficiency of gemcitabine in a chemotherapy treatment for pancreas cancer. Although gemcitabine is, for now, the best treatment for this aggressive type of cancer, it often loses efficiciency, since cancer cells are resistant to this medicine.
Recently, the researchers from the Anderson Cancer Center of the University of Texas, have proven that when applied on pancreas cancer cells (and in animals), curcumin beats such resistance to gemcitabine.
They stated that “generally, our results show that curcumin increases the effect of gemcitabine when it fights against pancreas cancer by inhibiting the proliferation of metastasis.”
Curcumin for colon and breast cancer
The effect of curcumin against colorectal cancer has drawn a lot of the attention, especially because its bioavailability in this case represents a lesser problem, since the intestine can absorb curcumin and transport it through the digestive tract.
Its excellent tolerance and safety have been confirmed in five different clinical studies on colorectal cancer in stages I and II.
Several british researchers have recently proven that curcumin inhibits the propagation of several types of colorectal cancer and it increases the efficiency of medicines used in chemotherapy, like oxaliplatin.
The potential role of curcumin against breast cancer must be highlighted as well
Italian researchers recently informed that curcumin works efficiently against a common type of breast cancer cells and a mutant cell line that is resistant to conventional chemotherapy treatments.
They stated that "through the analysis of the effects on cell proliferation, cell cycle, and cell death, the anticancer activity of curcumin increases the power of the medicines used against breast cancer”.
This efficacy also applies to a type of leukemia cells, which are resistant to several medicines.
The research by Italian scientists proves that curcumin can adapt its properties against cancer when necessary.
Curcumin and its derivatives modify its effects according the existent patterns and genes, modifying the effect of medicines to make them more efficient, as it happens with breast cancer. The structures and properties of curcumin can clearly build the foundations to develop cancer treatments
2. Curcumin – Efficient protection of the nervous system
Researches have found numerous benefits of curcumin for a long list of neural problems.
"Curcumin has at least 10 neuroprotective known effects and many of them can be observed in living subjects.” That is what a group of American scientists claimed in "Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology". To this, they added:
“A curcumin nutritional supplement is an ideal candidate for the treatment and prevention of serious and neurodegenerative diseases associated with aging, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson, and strokes.”
The scientists are not the only ones supporting that believe in the potential of curcumin to fight such terrible diseases like Alzheimer's. There are numerous researchers who have deepened in the protective effects of curcumin on the brain.
At the beginning of 2007, a group of chinese scientists informed that curcumin protects the brain of laboratory animals against a type of damage that usually results in an apoplexy.
It is known that the damage caused by ischemia of the brain tissue is the result of deficiencies in the blood-brain barrier, which are associated to cerebrovascular damage.
A single injection of curcumin reduces dramatically the damage from ischemia, neural damage, and animal death with an experimentally induced stroke.
Moreover, the scientists informed that curcumin also protects the brain tissue from oxidative stress through the increase of the production of the oxygenase-1 (HO-1) enzyme. “In the central nervous system", the researchers wrote, "HO-1 acts as a fundamental safeguard for neurons, by protecting them from oxidative stress.”
Traumatic brain damage can also cause oxidative stress that often affects perception and the synaptic plasticity, which has a vital role in a healthy learning and memory.
Through all the experimentation on animals, American researchers proved that: "Using a curcumin nutritional supplement considerably reduces the oxidative damage and acts against cognitive deterioration caused by a previous traumatic brain damage.”
Curcumin prevents dementia and cognitive deterioration
Even if there is no damage, cognitive deterioration is a very common feature of the aging process. Memory loss usually starts around the age of 50, and it is estimated that 50% of people over the age of 80 suffer some kind of dementia.
A group of Asian researchers carried out a epidemiological study on the consumption of curry related to the cognitive function in old people in order to see if curcumin could protect the brain from cognitive deterioration.
They found out that men and women who consumed curry (which contains curcumin) “occasionally”, “often” or “very often” showed significantly better results during their mental assessment when compared to other people who "never" or "hardly ever" consumed curry.
The researchers described the results as "a promising evidence of a cognitive performance due to curry consumption in Asian old people with no cognitive impairment".
Curcumin protects from Alzheimer's disease
Curcumin can protect us from Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia.
Alzheimer‘s disease is characterised by the irregular accumulation of the beta-amyloid protein. Normally, the immune cells, also known as macrophages, identify these damaged proteins and destroy them. But, due to unknown reasons, macrophages cannot carry out this important task in the case of Alzheimer’s disease.
Through experimental study on animals focusing on this disease, scientists have proven that curcumin improves the elimination of the beta-amyloid protein, which reduces the myofibrils that are also related to Alzheimer’s disease.
The ability of curcumin to get over the blood-brain barrier and bind to amyloid plaques could be very important for its anti-amyloid activity.
Researchers in LA tested the anti-amyloid effects on patients who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. The destruction of the beta-amyloid proteins by macrophages increased significantly in those patients who consumed curcumin. The researchers reached the conclusion that this change in the immune system through curcumin “could comply with the suppression of beta-amyloids accumulated on the patients' brains”.
This data seem to point out that curcumin can protect the brain from developing Alzheimer’s disease and possibly help with its treatment once the disease has developed.
3. Curcumin as a powerful antioxidant agent
Curcumin extract is one of the most common spices that we have at home, but it is more than that. In recent years, there has been a growing interest among medicine professionals due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
When the body reacts to an injury, there are several changes produced by the free radicals. These free radicals or “oxidants” protect the body from external invaders, like in the case of infections. When these invader oxidant bacteria are being destroyed, our own cells can also be damaged. These oxidants include superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, hydroxyl radicals, and lipid peroxides.
Over the years, our body starts to degenerate because our cells are constantly being affected by the free radicals. Chronic inflammation or heart diseases accelerate aging and the growth of harmful cells, which can result in cancer.
The body has its own defenses to protect itself from the free radicals. But at some point, aging and diseases exhaust the natural capacity of the body to keep the oxidant elements under control.
Studies show that curcumin can inhibit this process or even revert it through the destruction or neutralization of the free radicals, stopping their reaction in the oxidative chain.
Scientific research carried out in 1995 proved that a diet that includes curcumin can reduce oxidative stress. Indian scientists discovered that curcumin inhibits the peroxidation of lipids, superoxide, and hydroxyl radicals.
There are more recent studies on the matter though. One study proved that endothelial cells of the aorta of cattle, were “more resistant” to oxidative cells when they were treated with curcumin for long periods of time.
In another study, experts discovered that curcumin suppresses oxidative stress caused by trichloroethylene in the mouse’s liver. Researchers concluded that curcumin benefits are based on its capacity to block the amount of peroxisome in cells, a substance that affects the use of oxygen in the cells.
4. Curcumin and cholesterol
LDL oxidation, the “bad” cholesterol, plays an important role in the development of atherosclerosis. The researchers relied on this knowledge to evaluate the effects of curcumin regarding the LDL oxidation and lipid levels in blood plasma.
In a study on nutrition carried out by Spanish doctors, 18 guinea pigs were subjected to a high cholesterol diet and divided into 3 groups. The first group was given 1.6 mg/kg of curcumin, the second group 3.2mg, and the third group was used as a control group.
Seven weeks later, the researchers found out that the group who was given the highest dose of curcumin reduced its sensitivity to LDL oxidation and lipidic peroxidation, and showed a lower level of cholesterol.
5. Curcumin and its relevance for ocular diseases
Turmeric is much more than a spice for cooking.
Curcumin, the substances that makes it yellow, is included in the treatment of certain diseases and ocular disorders.
One of them is chronic anterior uveitis treatment, an inflammatory disease that affects the vascular layer of the eye, particularly the surrounding area of the iris.
In a little study on curcumin carried out on 32 patients that suffered from this disease, they were given curcumin orally and divided in two groups.
The first group only consumed curcumin, while the second group was given a combination of curcumin and a treatment for tuberculosis.
Surprisingly, those patients who were treated exclusively with curcumin experienced an improvement of a 86% compared to those who received a combined treatment.
The researchers concluded that curcumin is as effective as a corticosteroid treatment, which is the usual treatment to treat chronic anterior uveitis. They added that “the absence of side effects in curcumin is its greater advantage in comparison to corticosteroids”.
A similar research carried out with rats and guinea pigs showed that curcumin, even in very low amounts, provides very good results for this disease. The same study found that this type of cataracts is related to a planned cell death (apoptosis) of the eye epithelial cells and curcumine reduces such effects.
In one of the first studies on curcumin as a treatment for cataracts, researchers fed two groups of rats for 14 days with a diet of corn oil or a combination of corn oil and curcumin.
From then on, lipidic peroxidation was analysed. The researchers discovered that “the rats treated with curcumin presented a greater resistance to cataracts that the control group who was not given curcumin".
6. Curcumin accelerates wound healing
Wound healing can be accelerated with curcumin.
In a study where two groups of treated and non treated rats and guinea pigs were compared, it was proven that curcumin accelerates the wound healing process. After carrying out biopsies, they found a new development of epidermic cells, along with a greater migration of other cells, myofibroblasts, fibroblasts, and macrophages from the wound and new and developed blood vessels.
After this study, researchers obtained similar results in diabetic rodents with hearing impairment that were treated with curcumin.
The researchers observed an increase in blood vessels, the improvement of the cells from the wound and higher amounts of collagen, fiber, bone, and cartilage in connective tissue.
According to recent statements made by American researchers "curcumin has an excellent safety profile and a great variety of multi-functional effects”.
In phase l clinical tests, in which high doses of curcumin were administered (8g/day for more than four months) to volunteers, they "did not showed any kind of toxicity".
It is a fact that not everybody likes curry, specially if they have to eat it every day. But everybody can use curcumin as a nutritional supplement every day. Most of the products available have between 300-500 mg of curcumin per capsule.
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