Posted by Noveera Ahmed
Turmeric, or haldi, is a spice derived from the plant Curcuma longa. Turmeric gives food a distinctive smoky aroma, curry flavor, and yellow color. This spice is used extensively in Asian cooking. Scientists have observed lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease and cancer among certain Asian subpopulations, which have prompted studies into the diet of these subpopulations. Turmeric is consumed in large quantities within these Asian populations, estimated to between 0.5-1.5 grams per day.
The major medicinal part of turmeric is curcumin, or diferuloylmethane. Several recent studies have shown that consuming curcumin has range of health benefits effecting almost every organ and system in the body. One study showed that patients who consumed 0.5 grams of curcumin reduced their serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In another study, patients suffering from lupus nephritis had improved kidney function after consuming 0.5 grams of turmeric a day.
Curcumin is very effective anti-inflammatory medicine with no measurable side effects at doses under 8 grams a day. It was shown that patients suffering with moderate osteoarthritis, both men and women, were given 1 gram of curcumin twice a day for 8 months. At the end of 8 months, patients who consumed turmeric felt less pain, were less stiff and could do more physical activity than the control group (walk double the distance on a treadmill). In addition, the patients taking curcumin had less edema, took fewer painkillers and had less hospital or doctor visits. These patients also reported having fewer gastrointestinal problems. In another study, it was shown that patients who consumed curcumin tablets reported less pain and fatigue after surgery compared to patients who did not consume it.
Curcumin has also been shown to be effective at preventing cancer and reducing tumor size or progression. It was found to inhibit signals that lead to progression of lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, melanoma (cancer of the skin cells), hepatoma (liver cancer), laryngeal cancer, colorectal cancer, fibrosarcoma, glioma (cancer in the brain or spine), tongue squamous cell carcinoma, gastric cancer, ovarian cancer, and osteocarcinoma (cancer in the bone). In addition, curcumin reverses negative epigenetic signals that accumulate with age. It was found to bind to at least 33 different proteins that include proteins that turn genes on or off, control growth, bind to receptors, and control whether a cell should divide or die (cancer is caused by uncontrolled cell division). Curcumin was shown to be an effective inhibitor of some histone deacylases, histone acetyltransferases, and methyltransferases. It also increased production of microRNAs that specifically targeted oncogenes. The data suggests that curcumin turns on genes that prevent cancer, or tumor suppressor genes, and silences genes that can lead to cancer, called oncogenes (figure to below).
Curcumin is not very soluble in water, although heat improves solubility (interestingly, it is cooked in liquid in most Asian dishes). It is highly soluble in blood but has low absorption rates in the gastrointestinal tract. Piperine, derived from black pepper, improves curcumin absorption during digestion (black pepper is often added with turmeric in Asian cooking). Despite limited absorption in the body, the small amount in the blood stream is highly effective. Curcumin has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier, making it a great supplement to improve brain function and help prevent degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
So, whether you eat more curry or take turmeric supplements, curcumin may improve your health and help prevent future health problems.