The Healthy Benefits of Turmeric
The next time you order takeout, get the curry. This delightfully yellow, spicy Indian dish contains one of the most potent nutritional powerhouses on the planet: turmeric.Turmeric is a plant in the ginger family and has been one of the most common spices in Indian cuisine for thousands of years. Drying and powdering the roots produces the signature bright golden color. Turmeric was also used as a dye and as a medicine as far back as 2500 BC. It holds a prominent place in Ayurvedic healing even today. In fact, the more we learn about turmeric, the more incredible benefits we find. The main medicinal compound in turmeric is curcumin. Curcumin is a well-known anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. But since the levels of curcumin in turmeric are low (only 3% by weight), the curcumin is usually extracted to make more concentrated supplements. Another hurdle in using curcumin is that it is not easily taken up by the body and needs to be paired with other compounds to increase its absorption rate. It’s also fat-soluble, not water-soluble, which means you may want to eat fatty foods when you take a curcumin supplement to bump up absorption. Nevertheless, curcumin has incredible health benefits that are backed up by years of research. Let’s look at a few of the most well-known advantages of using curcumin.
You might be surprised, but not all inflammation is bad. Inflammation is one of the tools your body uses to repair damaged tissues and fight off pathogens. But chronic, low-level inflammation can lead to degenerative diseases like arthritis, heart disease, and even cancer. Supplementation with curcumin has been shown to reduce the markers of inflammation in the body.
Curcumin works naturally to suppress inflammation by blocking the molecule NF-kB, the main regulator of inflammatory responses. NF-kB is found in every cell of your body and is in charge of flipping the inflammation switch on when needed. But when NF-kB isn’t held in check, inflammation can become a chronic problem. Curcumin helps calm down that molecule so it isn’t stimulating inflammation unnecessarily.Curcumin studies show that it’s an effective treatment for inflammatory conditions like IBS and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as multiple types of cancers (stomach, colon, breast, skin, and others.) Curcumin might help reduce cancer spread and even kill off cancer cells. In a month-long study in men who had colorectal lesions, which sometimes turn cancerous, 4 grams of curcumin daily led to a reduction in lesions by 40%. That’s an impressive decline.
Curcumin is also rather famous for its antioxidant powers. Biological oxidation occurs when free radicals are released in the body; this happens normally as the body ages and can also be caused by environmental factors like the foods we eat and the chemicals we are exposed to. But an imbalance of free radicals can cause excessive stress, cell damage, and premature aging, which no one wants. Antioxidants are the antidote to free radicals. They work by stabilizing the very unstable free radicals, preventing them from harming your cells.
Curcumin is itself an antioxidant and its able to increase the levels of antioxidants your body produces on its own. Adding a curcumin supplement may be an effective way to reduce oxidative stress in your body.
For a long time, scientists believed that neurons in your brain weren’t able to reproduce or make new neural pathways in adulthood. Now we know that they actually can, because of the protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor.) Low levels of BDNF are linked to degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Interestingly, curcumin has been used in animal studies to increase BDNF. This holds a lot of promise for the possibility of slowing down or even reversing cognitive diseases in people.
In one 18-month study on curcumin’s effects on cognitive function, subjects experienced improved memory and attention while taking a curcumin supplement. The researchers discovered through before-and-after brain scans that those using curcumin showed a decrease in plaque and protein tangles in the brain. What an exciting finding!
In an Australian study on depression, participants were given either daily curcumin supplements or a placebo for eight weeks. No changes were seen in the first four weeks, but the second half of the trial showed that those taking curcumin scored significantly better on a depression scale than those taking the placebo.
Researchers aren’t entirely sure of the mechanisms that make curcumin helpful for depression, but it may be related to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. “People with depression have greater inflammation and oxidative stress, which can affect all major organs in the body, including the brain,” says Adrian Lopresti, PhD, of Murdoch University.
Curcumin may have a central role in fighting the world’s largest cause of death: heart disease. 2,200 deaths happen every day in the United States alone due to heart disease and strokes. Curcumin has shown to be preventative for both conditions.
One of the main factors in heart disease is deterioration of your blood vessel linings, the endothelium. Curcumin has been found to improve the way your endothelium functions. And since curcumin is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, those two benefits also help to slow down the progression of heart disease.
In mice and rat studies, curcumin has been used to prevent heart failure and also reduce atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), a major driver of strokes and heart attacks.
Issues of absorbability
One of the biggest problems with curcumin is it’s not easily absorbed by the body. In order to increase the uptake, curcumin is usually paired with piperine (black pepper extracts, sometimes called bioperine.) Piperine is super effective – it boosts curcumin absorption by 2000%! But it comes with drawbacks you’ve likely never heard about. New information out of NutriDyn, nutritional supplement and education company in Minnesota, helps us shed some light on the sometimes contradictory advice about turmeric.
Piperine does increase absorption but it does so by creating leaky gut. Dr. Rick Mayfield, Chief Science Officer at NutriDyn, explains that “the concentrated extract of black pepper acts as an irritant to the mucosal membranes of the intestinal barrier. It essentially disrupts proper barrier function and increases intestinal permeability. This is how it allows compounds to have increased absorption. However, increasing the ability of compounds to cross the intestinal barrier means that undesirable compounds are also let through the loose junctions created. In other words, leaky gut syndrome is set up or exacerbated.”
That’s bad news, but there’s more. Piperine also blocks the liver from detoxing. This can be especially troublesome for people using pharmaceuticals: if the liver can’t metabolize and purge medications, they stay in the body longer which could lead to cell damage and toxin retention. Is this really worth risking to get more curcumin in your system? You could be trading one problem for another.
Luckily, researchers at NutriDyn along with Dr. Mayfield have made a recent breakthrough discovery that replaces problematic piperine. They found a fenugreek complex blows piperine out of the water when it comes to curcumin uptake. Their proprietary ingredient is called BioCurc®, and it forms the basis for their new Curcumin 400x supplement. NutriDyn’s Curcumin 400x has 400 times the bioavailability of most other turmeric supplements. Just one softgel is equal to 2 million milligrams of turmeric. BioCurc® solves the issues of absorbability and leaky gut, making it both more effective and safer. In NutriDyn’s clinical studies, BioCurc® helped improve memory and moods in the trial participants. Additionally, thanks to its superior absorption, Curcumin 400x may also aid in immune function, digestion, and mobility.
How safe is curcumin?
Apart from avoiding black pepper extracts, curcumin has an excellent safety record if you stay within recommended doses. Very high doses (over 8 grams) might cause upset stomach or nausea. It is considered safe for both healthy people and those with health problems.
That said, there are a few groups of people who should be cautious about using curcumin. For pregnant or lactating women, eating turmeric in the diet is fine, but no studies have been done on the safety of curcumin supplements during the partum periods. People with active gallbladder obstruction or gallstones should avoid curcumin until the gallbladder issues are resolved, because curcumin can cause the gallbladder to contract (which would be painful in the presence of stones.) Since curcumin has anti-blood clotting factors, people with bleeding issues or taking blood-thinning medications should be careful with supplements and talk with their doctor first.Remember, these precautions apply to curcumin supplements, not dietary turmeric. Turmeric as a spice is only 3% curcumin, while extracts are usually 95% curcumin.I really can’t say enough good things about curcumin. It’s a wonderful compound and a gift for human health. It has so many important health benefits that everyone should take advantage of. From heart health to joints to brain function, there’s almost nothing in your body that curcumin can’t help make healthier. And now that Curcumin 400x is available, curcumin supplementation is safer and more complete than ever before.