Turmeric has a wide range of health benefits and the principal component to which all these benefits are owed is curcumin. What is curcumin? Curcumin can be defined as a pigment that gives turmeric its brownish-orange color. Currently, curcumin is mostly being used for food coloring but increasing amounts of experiments & studies are proving that curcumin is highly therapeutic; in fact curcumin is already a part of many of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory drugs in the market. The color of curcumin can be found under the food color code E100. In the subsequent chapters you will find out about the various health benefits of turmeric.
1. Inflammation and Oxidation
Turmeric is a very powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. It neutralizes free radicals that would otherwise travel through one’s body and cause damage to healthy cells and DNA; these oxidants are responsible for chronic conditions like cancer and atherosclerosis. Nowadays, these conditions are on the rise and every artificial treatment in the market costs both money and side effects but turmeric provides a fully potent and safe, natural anti-inflammatory solution to these conditions. Turmeric regulates specific inflammatory factors such as enzymes and compounds that hinder the development of these conditions. Combine this with inexpensiveness and no toxic side effects like ulcer formation, and you get yourself a spice that works like a perfect drug.
Free radicals are also responsible for the painful joint inflammation called arthritis which eventually leads to complete deformation of joints. As turmeric is an antioxidant it helps deal with this condition too; the simplest example of it working is the relief that an arthritis patient feels after having a warm bowl of spicy soup. A study conducted by the journal Oncagene compared the effectiveness of turmeric with phenylbutazone, a synthetic drug used to treat arthritis. It was found out that turmeric was much more helpful as it shortened the duration of stiffness of the joints, especially in the morning; furthermore it lengthened the walking time and reduced the intensity of joint swelling. With all that said, it had no side effects and therefore, it wouldn’t hurt you to consume turmeric rich foods, just to be on the safe side. Also, when it comes to inflammatory bowel disease, turmeric is proving to be a ground breaking treatment in experiments. Currently, this process is in testing phase but future prospects are bright; experiments carried out on mice have shown that the fraction of mice that were given doses of turmeric were immune to inflammatory agents that induce colitis; moreover they lost less weigh and their intestinal flow was also not affected. This showed that Curcumin not only prevented inflammatory diseases but also inhibited a major, cellular inflammatory agent. Human trials are still to be carried out but this technique has been in wide use in Southeast Asia for centuries so there is no harm in trying a plate of curry with your favorite rice every alternate evening.
2. Cystic Fibrosis
Cystic Fibrosis is an inherited blood disease caused by one of the most common genetic defects, which unfortunately result in death. Sufferers of cystic fibrosis have their organs blocked by salty, thick mucus that results in life-threatening infections; it affects approximately 30,000 American children and adults, who survive rarely beyond the age of 30.
The major symptoms of cystic fibrosis are lung infections, salty sweat and bowel difficulties. The organs at risk include the lungs, pancreas, intestines and the sex organs. In patients of CF, thick and sticky mucus deposits in the lung and prevents correct air flow; this allows bacteria to flourish resulting in infections as stated previously. In the same way it deposits in the pancreas and blocks its ducts; this ceases the flow of enzymes to the small intestine that further causes the food to break down irregularly and incompletely. One potential weapon against cystic fibrosis is turmeric. Medical explorers at both the University of Washington and John Hopkins University are conducting experiments involving turmeric as a possible agent against cystic fibrosis. The most common gene mutation that causes CF is known as DeltaF508; when mice with this defect were given doses of curcumin, equivalent to human doses; it was found out that this defect was corrected. When it comes to human trials, a study conducted by Yale researchers has shown that curcumin inhibited the release of calcium which resulted in easy escape of mutated cells that in turn resulted in lower build-up of the salty mucus. Still you should not fall for the quick treatment and take curcumin supplements; instead you should consume turmeric rich foods and you will see significant decrease in saltiness of your sweat. This will be a direct indicator that the turmeric is working!
3. Childhood Leukemia
Leukemia is the cancer of blood cells that originates from the bone marrow. In its normal state, the bone marrow makes white blood that help the body fight numerous infections but under leukemia the body makes defected white blood cells that do nothing except crowding the normal blood cells. This leads to problems such as infections from wounds, bleeding and anemia. The risk of childhood leukemia has suddenly increased especially after the 20th century; since the 1950s the risk of a child under the age of five, developing leukemia has increased by 50%. The exact reason is still not known but the urban environmental factors and lifestyle are thought to be the major players in this area. One strange thing though is that this condition is much lower in Asian countries than most Western nations. Professor Moolky Nagabhushan of the Loyala University Medical Centre, Chicago has conducted studies over the last 20 years to find a solid answer for this reason and what he found out was that it was the use of turmeric that was keeping leukemia on tabs. He has shown that from his studies that turmeric has the ability to irreversibly cease the multiplication of abnormal white blood cells that cause leukemia, in the bone marrow. The studies show that lifestyles like prenatal exposure to radiation, environmental pollutants like benzene and alkylating drugs contribute to the rise of childhood leukemia. Comprehensively the studies show that:
- Turmeric inhibits chromosome damage caused by radiation.
- Turmeric reduces the damage caused by carcinogenic chemicals that are created by the burning of carbon fuels like cigarette smoke.
- Turmeric prevents the creation of heterocyclic amines, harmful compounds that enter the body from processed foods.
4. Cardiovascular Diseases
At this day and stage cholesterol is a word that is known to everyone; ask a 5 year old about it and he’ll tell you about it. Cholesterol is not wholly bad but that’s a whole other story. The thing one should know is that it is oxidized cholesterol that damages the blood vessels; it deposits in the plaque that become the reason for a heart attack or a stroke. Prevention of the oxidation of cholesterol can aid in the reduction of heart diseases and atherosclerosis. Turmeric has a cholesterol lowering effect and this effect, like so many others is also owed to curcumin. Curcumin is acts like a messaging molecule that directs genes in the liver cells to increase the production of messenger proteins. These messenger proteins control the creation of bad (LDL) cholesterol receptors. With the help of these receptors, liver cells are able to clear more bad (LDL) cholesterol from the system.
Cardiovascular diseases are not just related to cholesterol but there are other compounds in the background too; homocysteine is one of these compounds. It is an intermediate product of a cellular process that directly damages the walls of the blood vessels. High levels of homocysteine are a significant risk factor for atherosclerotic plaque build-up, blood vessel damage and heart disease. To keep the homocysteine levels from getting too high, vitamin B6 comes into play. A high intake of vitamin B6 reduces the risk of heart diseases by keeping the homocysteine to an optimized level.
A research was conducted on10 healthy volunteers, by the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology; they consumed 500mg of curcumin each day for 7 days. After 7 days it was found out that oxidized cholesterol in their blood dropped by 33% while the level of their good cholesterol increased by 29%.
5. Alzheimer’s disease
Increasing evidence is suggesting that turmeric can help in fighting off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is caused by protein fragment, amyloid-B that builds-up in the brain causing inflammation, oxidative stress and plaque formation between nerve cells. How are plaques formed exactly? Firstly, amyloid is a term used for protein fragments normally found in the body. Amyloid-B is a fragment stripped from another protein called amyloid-PP. In a normal & healthy brain, amyloid-PP is broken and eliminated, however in patients of Alzheimer’s, these fragments build-up and form hard, insoluble plaques. Moreover, in a healthy brain immune cells called macrophages are responsible for destroying abnormalities like amyloid-B but these immunities are rendered useless in Alzheimer’s patients.
Researchers at UCLA conducted test tube studies that showed that curcumin reduced the build-up of amyloid-B and dissolved amyloid fibrils much more effectively than anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. Curcumin achieves this by binding to amyloid-B; once bound, these fragments can no longer clump and form plaques. And when it comes to revitalizing the immunity system, another variant of curcumin comes to play: bisdemethoxycurcumin. This chemical helps boost the activity of the immune system and macrophage levels. Dr. Milan Fiala and Dr. John Cashman conducted experiments on blood samples of Alzheimer’s patients which concluded that bisdemethoxycurcumin increased the number of macrophages and promoted the clearance of amyloid-B in the brain. Another layer of protection against Alzheimer’s is provided by curcumin in the form of its antioxidant properties. Curcumin does so, by tapping a gene that orders the production of natural antioxidants in the brain. A study published in the Italian Journal of Biochemistry stated the role of curcumin in the induction of a pathway, heme oxygenase whose output is an antioxidant called bilirubin. The antioxidant prevents free radical injury to the brain; the same injury that is believed to be a major contributor for aging and cognitive diseases, one of which is Alzheimer.
When it comes to cancer prevention, research on how turmeric does so is in very early stages and the current tests are only limited to lab or rodents. One such test has proved that due to its antioxidant properties, turmeric can prevent DNA mutations. Free radicals are responsible for DNA mutations that result in cell abnormalities during cell-replication; these abnormalities then become a major contributor of cancerous cells. By suppressing these free radicals, turmeric achieves the first layer of protection against cancerous cells. Epidemiological studies have related the use of turmeric to lower rates of prostate, breast and colon cancer. Lab experiments have shown that curcumin can prevent the formation of tumors by interfering with several pathways known for their aid in the growth and spread of cancerous cells. Researchers at the University of Texas have carried out experiments on lab mice and concluded that turmeric can slow the spread of cancer in an already cancerous environment.
In their study published in 2005 in the paper Biochemical Pharmacology, cancerous breast cells were extracted from humans and injected into mice; the resulting tumors were removed, thus simulating a mastectomy. The mice were divided into 4 groups with: • The first group receiving no further treatment. • The second group receiving treatment with paclitaxel, a cancer drug. • The third group receiving treatment with curcumin. • The fourth group receiving treatment with both paclitaxel and curcumin. After five weeks, 50% of the mice on curcumin and 22% on both paclitaxel & curcumin had indication of the breast cancer spreading to the lungs, while 75% of the mice that were on paclitaxel alone had developed tumors in the lung; 95% of the mice on no medication had developed lung cancer.