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The Spice of Life. Curcumin comes from the Ginger family and it’s 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 applications, which are the reason why it has been used for centuries to treat different diseases.
Curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, in fact, some studies support that it can be as efficient as some pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory but with one advantage: no side effects.
Curcumin presents inflammation at a cellular level, it prevents many chronic diseases
Curcumin is not just a curry ingredient that provides the yellow colour, but this plant has also a very powerful active ingredient that protects every body cell. Curcumin benefits all body organs and it has antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties.
It provides a strong cardiovascular protection and can help fight other diseases like cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer and Parkinson. Curcumin also seems to be very promising regarding multiple sclerosis treatments and protecting against cataracts and repairing some damages caused by high blood sugar levels in diabetics.
Curcumin can also be used to treat skin diseases like psoriasis or injuries. It has been even proved that it’s very promising fighting cystic fibrosis.
What’s the difference between Turmeric and Curcumin?
We should difference the turmeric root from its most beneficial component, curcumin. Turmeric is a well-known plant in India. Its root is grown, cleaned, dried and powdered like a spice (turmeric is the reason why curry is yellow) and it’s used as a medicine. Traditionally, turmeric has been used against any disease ever known, from smallpox all the way through to an ankle sprain.
One of its ingredients is curcumin, which is found in turmeric root and it’s bright yellow. Curcuma, as well as oranges, is an important source of vitamin C.
But using powdered turmeric is not enough to be used as a natural medicine (same way as you wouldn’t just eat oranges when you have a cold). Curcumin obtained turmeric root can be used as a natural remedy to prevent cancer, Alzheimer, arthritis and many other chronic diseases y muchas otras enfermedades crónicas.
1. Curcumin - Effective cancer prevention
Generally, scientists do all they can to avoid exaggeration when it comes to write down their study subjects, but the surprising properties of curcumin allow them to celebrate that “Curcumin seems to meet all the needed characteristics for a polyvalent medicine developed in a laboratory.”
Some researches have focused on its promising benefits against cancer. “Curcumin has been revealed as one of the most effective chemical-preventing agents”, they stated in India last year. “Its biological effects cover all the way from anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects to inhibit angiogenesis, to its specific anti-cancer activity.” Some of the chemical drugs against cancer weaken immune system but this does not happen with curcumin, as it works “repairing” the immune system. For this reason, one of the most studied aspects of curcumine is its benefits to prevent and treat cancer.
Some american researchers of Cancer Letters have recently observed that clinical studies on several cancer types (breast, womb, colon, stomach, liver, leukaemia, mouth, pancreas, ovary and prostate) have proven curcumin to fight cancer.
Other researchers say that cancer appearance 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 mid 2007, scientists of Alabama University in Birmingham, published in Cancer Research a study that reveals that curcumin is one of the most useful and effective medicines against cancer.
Researchers exposed prostate cancer cells to different curcumin concentrations. The result is:
Curcumine reduces the production of protein MDM2, which is associated with tumour formation.
At the same time, curcumin makes cells produce new proteins to fight programmed cell death (apoptosis). The defective relationship of NF-kB, a trigger for inflammation, could be involved in MDM” generation, which has been suggested for a new research challenge to treat cancer in humans. In order to test the effects of curcumin in a living model, researches inserted prostate cancer cells in mouses, who later developed tumours.
During 4 weeks and 5 days a week, mouses received cucumin or a placebo.
Mouses who had curcumin were divided into 3 groups.
One group only had curcumine, the second group also had gemcitabine, a characteristic drug component of chemotherapy.
The last group received curcumin and radiation treatment.
Conclusion: curcumin inhibited cancer growth and improved the anticancer effects of gemcitabine and radiotherapy. Tomours reduced the increase of MDM2.
The decrease or suppression of MDM2 has been designed as a recently discovered mechanism through which curcumnin exerts it anticancer function.
Researches concluded “Low MDM2 regulation through curcumin could be a decisive for its chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic effects.”
In this regard, epidemiological studies show that the number of prostate cancer cases among men in India is one of the lowest worldwide.
A recent study estimates that the annual rate of prostate cancer in India is between 5.0% and 9.1%.
On the other hand, prostate cancer in white men in the United States is 110.4% higher annually compared to men in India. Afroamerican men rate is even higher.
Maybe it is no coincidence that a constant intake of turmeric in curry in Indian men is one of the highest. Indian population consumes an average or 2 - 2.5g/day of turmeric, which provides them between 60-300mg of curcumin daily.
Curcumin and pancreas cancer
Curcumin has also proved that it can improve the efficacy of gemcitabine in chemotherapy for pancreas cancer treatment. Although gemcitabine is the best treatment for this aggressive type of cancer for now, it often loses efficacy as cancer cells are resistant to this drug.
Recently, researchers of the Cancer Center of Texas University have shown that curcumin applied on pancreas cancer cells (and in animals) beat such resistance to gemcitabine. They stated, “Generally, our results show that curcumin fights against pancreas cancer by inhibiting metastasis proliferation.”
Curcumin and colon/breast cancer
The effect of curcumin against colorectal cancer has got the attention of research especially because curcumin bioavailability in this case represents a minor problems because gut can absorb curcumin and transport it through the digestive tract. Its excellent tolerance and safety has been confirmed in five different clinical trials on colorectal cancer stage I and II.
Several british researchers have recentñy proved that curcumin prevents some type of colorectal cancers from spreading and increases effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs like oxaliplatin.
It would relevant to stand out the potential role of curcumin against breast cancer
Italian researchers recently revealed that curcumin works efficiently against one common type of breast cancer cells and a mutant cellular line that is resistant to conventional chemotherapy treatments.
"Analysing the effects on cellular spreading, cell cycle and cell death, curcumin anticancer activity increases the power of the drugs applied against breast cancer,” they stated.
This efficacy also applies to a type of leukaemia cells, resistant to several drugs. Italian research 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 drugs to make them more efficient, as it happens with breast cancer.”
“Curcumin properties can clearly build the foundations to develop cancer treatments"
2. Curcumin – Efficient protection of the nervous system
Researches have found numerous benefits provided by curcumin in a long list of neural problems.
"Curcumin has at least 10 neuroprotective effects known and many of them can be seen in living subjects.” That’s what a group of american scientists published in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. “Curcumin nutritional supplement is an ideal candidate to the treatment and prevention of serious and neurodegenerative diseases associated with ageing, such as Alzheimer, Parkinson and strokes.”
They are not the only ones supporting this theory, but there are numerous researchers who have gone deep in curcumin protective effects on the brain.
At the beginning of 2007, a group of chinese scientists revealed that curcumin protects animals brain against a neural damage that usually results in an apoplexy.
It’s known that a damage caused by ischemia is the result of the blood-brain barrier deficiencies, associated with cerebrovascular damage.
Only one injection of curcumin reduces dramatically ischemia damage, neural damage and animal death with an induced stroke.
They also confirmed that curcumin protects brain tissue against oxidative stress through the increase of the enzyme oxygenase-1 (HO-1). “In the central nervous system, HO-1 acts as a fundamental safeguard for neurons, protecting them from oxidative stress.”
Traumatic brain damage also cause oxidative stress that often affects perception and synaptic plasticity, which has a vital role in a healthy learning and memory. Through all the clinical trials on animals, american researchers proved that taking a curcumin nutritional supplement considerably reduces the oxidative damage and acts against cognitive impairment caused by a previous traumatic brain damage.”
Curcumin prevents dementia and cognitive impairment
Even if there is no damage, cognitive impairment is a very common feature of the ageing process. Memory loss usually starts around 50 years old, and it’s estimated that 50% of people over 80 suffers some kind of dementia.
When in doubt, curcumin could protect brain ageing process from a cognitive deterioration. A group of asian researchers carried out a study on curry consumption in relation to the cognitive function in elderly people.
They found that men and women who consumed curry “occasionally”, “often” or “very often” showed results significantly better during their mental assessment compared to other people who never consumed curry.
Researchers described the results as a promising and revealing evidence of an improved cognitive performance due to curry consumption in elderly people with no cognitive impairment.
Curcumin and Alzheimer
Curcumin has the ability to protect against Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia.
Alzheimer‘s disease is characterised by the irregular accumulation of the beta-amyloid protein. But due to unknown reasons, macrophages cannot carry out this important function in the case of Alzheimer’s disease.
Through different studies on animals focusing on this disease, scientists have proven curcumin to improve beta-amyloid elimination, reducing myofibrils, which are also related to Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin capacity to get over the blood-brain barrier and bind to amyloid plaques could be very important for its anti-amyloid activity.
Researchers in LA proved the anti-amyloid effects in patients who suffer Alzheimer’s disease. The destruction of beta-amyloid by macrophages increased significantly in those patients who took curcumin. They concluded this change in the immune system through curcumin “could comply with the suppression of beta-amyloids accumulated on the brain of patients”.
Data seems to point out that curcumin can protect the brain before Alzheimer’s disease develops and possibly help its treatment once the disease has appeared.
3. Curcumin as a powerful antioxidant
Curcumin extract is one of the most common spices at home, but it’s much more than that. In the recent years, there’s 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 free radicals. This free radicals or “oxidants” protect the body from external invaders, like it’s the case of infections. When these invader oxidant bacteria are being destroyed, our own cells can also be damaged. This oxidants include superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, hydroxyl radicals and lipid peroxides.
Over the years, our body starts degenerate because our cells are constantly being affected by free radicals. Chronic inflammation of heart diseases accelerate ageing and harmful cells growing, whose consequences can cause cancer.
The body has its own defences to protect itself from free radicals. But in some moment, ageing and diseases exhaust the natural capacity for the body to keep oxidants controlled.
Studies show that curcumin can inhibit this process or even revert it through the destruction or neutralisation of free radicals, halting their reaction in the oxidative chain.
Scientific research in 1995 proved that a diet that includes curcumin can reduce oxidative stress. Indian scientists discovered that curcumin does inhibit 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 livestock, 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 induced by trichloroethylene in the mouse’s liver. Researchers concluded that curcumin benefits are based on the capacity to block the amount of peroxisome in cells, a substance that affects oxygen’s use in cells.
4. Curcumin and cholesterol
LDL oxidation, the “bad” cholesterol, plays an important role in the development of atherosclerosis. Aware of this, researchers have looked into the effects of curcumin regarding the LDL oxidation and lipid levels in 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 received 1.6 mg/kg of curcumin, the second group 3.2 and the third group was used as a control group.
After 7 weeks, researchers found that the group who took the highest dose of curcumin reduced sensitivity to LDL oxidation and lipidic peroxidation, and showed a lower level of cholesterol.
5. Curcumiin and its relevance in eye diseases
Curcmumin is much more than a cooking spice. One of its benefits focus on chronic anterior uveitis treatment, an inflammatory disease that affects the vascular layer of the eye, particularly the surrounding area of the iris.
A study on curcumin carried out on 32 patients with this disease, took curcumin and were divided into 2 groups
The first group only took curcumin, while the second group received a combination of curcumin and a tuberculosis treatment.
Surprisingly, patients who were treated with only curcumin experienced an improvement of 86% greater compared to those who received a combined treatment.
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 curcumin side effects 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 malady. The same study found that this type of cataracts is related to a planified cell death (apoptosis) of the eye epithelial cells and curcumine reduces such effects.
One of the first studies on curcumin as a treatment for cataracts, researchers fed 2 groups of rats for 14 days with a diet containing corn oil or a combination or corn oil and corcumin. From then on, lipidic peroxidation was analysed. They discovered that “rats treated with curcumin presented a greater resistance to cataracts that the control group who didn’t take curcumin.
6. Curcumin accelerates scarring
In a study on two groups of rats and guinea pigs, treated and nontreated with curcumin, it was shown that curcumin accelerates the injury scarring process. After the injuries biopsies they showed a new development of epidermic cells, a greater migration of other cells, myofibroblasts, fibroblasts and macrophages of the injury and a new and developed growth of blood vessels.
After this study, researchers obtained similar results in diabetic rodents with hearing impairment that were treated with curcumin. They observed the increase of blood vessels, the improvement of the injury cells and greater amounts of collagen, fibre, bone and cartilage in connective tissue.
Safety and dosage
Curcumin has been consumed for thousands of years with no side effects, reason why it is a perfect nutritional supplement.
In fact "curcumin cas an excellent safety profile and a great variety of multi-functional effects”, according to recent statements of american researchers. In the phase 1 of several clinical trials during which curcumin was administered 8g/day for 4 months to voluntary people and they never showed any type of toxicity.
It’s true that not everybody likes curry, specially if they have to take it every day, but everybody can take curcumin as a nutritional supplement on a regular basis. Most of the available products contain 300-500 mg of curcumin per capsule.