Here are some evidence-based health benefits of turmeric or “Kaha”
Dr Hector Perera London
Turmeric contains bioactive compounds with powerful medicinal properties. Now we know that turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow colour. 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%, 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 the turmeric spice in your foods. Therefore, if you want to experience the full effects, then you need to take an 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. Curcumin is also fat soluble, so it may be a good idea to take it with a fatty meal. Curcumin is a natural anti-inflammatory compound. Inflammation is incredibly important. Turmeric contains curcumin, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Most studies used turmeric extracts that are standardized to include large amounts of curcumin.
It helps the body fight foreign invaders and also has a role in repairing damage. 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 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 genes related to inflammation.
Turmeric dramatically increases the antioxidant capacity of the body
Oxidative damage is believed to be one of the mechanisms behind aging and many diseases. The main reason antioxidants are so beneficial, is that they protect our bodies from free radicals. Curcumin happens to be a potent antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals due to its chemical structure. But curcumin also boosts the activity of the body’s own antioxidant enzymes. In that way, curcumin delivers a one-two punch against free radicals. It blocks them directly, then stimulates the body’s own antioxidant mechanisms.
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, but in certain areas of the brain, they can also multiply and increase in number.
Many common brain disorders have been linked to decreased levels of this hormone. This includes depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly, curcumin can increase 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. Curcumin leads to various improvements that should lower your risk of heart disease.
Heart disease is the biggest killer in the world
It has been studied for many decades and researchers have learned a lot about why it happens. It turns out that heart disease is incredibly complicated and there are various things that contribute to it. Curcumin may help reverse many steps in the heart disease process. 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% decreased risk of experiencing a heart attack in the hospital.
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. In countries such as India, they practice what is called Ayurvedic Medicine long before this Western medicine came to help.
Studies have shown that it can reduce angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels in tumours), 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 tumours 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). In one study 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 lesions by 40%. Maybe curcumin will be used along with conventional cancer treatment one day. It’s too early to say for sure, but it looks promising and this is being intensively studied as we speak.
Curcumin may be useful in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease
The word “dementia” describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, language and problem solving.
These changes are often small to start with, but for someone with dementia they have become severe enough to affect the daily life. A person with dementia may also experience changes in their mood or behaviour. Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of strokes. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia but not the only one. The specific symptoms that someone with dementia experiences will depend on the parts of the brain that are damaged and the disease that is causing the dementia.
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. But one key feature of Alzheimer’s disease is a build-up of protein tangles called Amyloid plaques. Studies show that curcumin can help clear these plaques. Whether curcumin can really slow down or even reverse the progression of Alzheimer’s disease needs to be studied properly.
If curcumin can really help prevent heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s… then this would have obvious benefits for longevity. For this reason, curcumin 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. Next time when you come across this turmeric colour or yellow colour in your curries, I am sure you wouldn’t refuse to eat because it has plenty of advantages as mentioned above. Your comments are welcomed firstname.lastname@example.org