Turmeric has been used for years in India and China as an anti-inflammatory medicine. Often such ingredients are dismissed as part of folk lore, but compounds in turmeric are standing up to scientific testing and showing themselves to have significant health benefits. The list of potential benefits is long, covering disease resistance, cardiovascular protection, anti-carcinogenic properties, significant antioxidant effects and even possible preventative properties against Alzheimer’s disease. All this, and much more, in a non-toxic compound with no known side effects.

Compound in turmeric is proving to have amazing health benefits

In 2013 Nagpal wrote an overview of some of the benefits of consuming curcumin.  This is the compound in turmeric that seems to have the most beneficial effects on health.  In particular, Nagpal focussed on oral health.  Curcumin is antimicrobial and antiseptic.  It can be used as a pit and fissure sealant in teeth, and a mouth wash.  It is very useful in dentistry as a subgingival irrigant, and helps prevent infection.

Curcumin not only has antiseptic, antimicrobial and anti fungal properties.  It is a fantastic antioxidant.  Antioxidants help counteract the very damaging effects of free radicals in our bodies, and help protect us against many diseases and conditions.  It is becoming common knowledge that a diet high in antioxidants can help us stay healthy, deal with disease better and protect ourselves against serious, potentially fatal, illnesses.  Generally fruits and vegetables are deemed ‘antioxidant super foods’ but research has shown that turmeric, likely because of the curcumin it contains, has significant antioxidant properties.

Kolodziejczyk (2011) found that curcumin protects platelets against oxidative stress.  Oxidative stress is an indicator that there are too many dangerous free radicals present.  Levels of oxidative stress measured were reduced by up to 35% in vitro.  This implies there may be a role for curcumin in helping protect us against heart disease or stroke; more research is definitely needed on the topic.

Such antioxidant activity can also benefit your eyes.  Macular degeneration is an age-related process affecting the retina, that often results in a total loss of vision.  Chang conducted a study this year to ascertain the efficacy of several compounds, including curcumin, on prevention of macular degeneration.  Curcumin was found to cause the most significant reduction in reactive oxygen species (a measure of oxidative stress and therefore curcumin’s antioxidant power).  Chang said that ‘curcumin represents an ideal drug’ in restoring full eye-function in those suffering dry macular degeneration.

Not only an antioxidant, curcumin can also help in inflammatory conditions.  367 patients suffering from osteoarthritis in their knee were given either 1200 mg ibuprofen a day, or a curcumin supplement (1500 mg) each day, for four weeks.  The study, conducted this year by Kuptniratsaikul, showed that curcumin was as effective at reducing pain and improving function as ibuprofen.  96% of people taking the curcumin treatment were happy with it and two-thirds rated the severity of their osteoarthritis as improved.  Importantly, those taking curcumin found significantly fewer side-effects, primarily abdominal pain, suggesting curcumin might be a safer treatment option for many.

The potential power of such antioxidant and anti-inflammatory supplements is wide-reaching. Benefits in the fight against cancer were demonstrated by Dhillon in 2008.  In a clinical trial, 25 patients with advanced pancreatic cancer orally ingested 8 grams of curcumin daily.  One patient experienced a marked tumour regression of 73%, two other patients showed a clinical improvement, and another patient had disease stability for more than 18 months.

Even more success has been found when using curcumin in conjunction with existing drugs in the treatment of cancer.  Everett’s in vitro study (2007) showed that curcumin helped induce apoptosis  (cell death) in leukemic cells from 14 patients when administered with a variety of drugs.  Howells showed, also in 2007, that curcumin prevented proliferation of two types of colorectal cancer cells.  Treatment with curcumin was beneficial alone, but most effective when treatment was combined with current anti-cancer drugs.  There are many studies showing curcumin has this enhancing effect on the efficacy of cancer drugs in a wide range of cancers, including prostate cancer (An, 2014), ovarian cancer and breast cancer (Chirnomas 2006), lung cancer (Chanvorachote 2009) and bladder cancer (Kamat 2007).  There is also growing evidence that curcumin prevents the growth and spread of various cancers (Gupta, 2010).

It’s not only heart disease and cancer that we might use curcumin to fight. Alzheimer’s disease occurs when a protein fragment called amyloid-B accumulates in brain cells.  This produces oxidative stress and inflammation, and forms large plaques between nerve cells in the brain that interrupts brain function.  Normally the amyloid-B fragments would be engulfed by macrophages (immune cells) and cleared away.  Alzheimer’s patients experience suppressed macrophage activity though.  Studies have shown that curcumin not only reduces oxidative stress and inflammation it also inhibits the formation of the large amyloid-B plaques (Yang, 2005).  Not only is plaque-formation reduced, but the immune function of Alzheimer’s sufferers is increased.  Fiala showed that curcumin boosts macrophage activity to normal levels, thus allowing sufferers to clear amyloid-B plaques (2007).

The mechanisms behind the extraordinarily wide-reaching benefits of turmeric are not fully understood yet, but as research continues it is becoming clear that the curcumin it contains might prove to be a significant part of maintaining good health right into old age.


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