A University of Arizona physician and a UA plant scientist have
determined that turmeric root can prevent the onset of rheumatoid
The results of their research are published in Arthritis and
Rheumatism, the journal of the American College of Rheumatology.
The study by Dr. Janet L. Funk and Barbara N. Timmermann provides the
first “in vivo” documentation of how extracts containing curcumin
protect against arthritis, according to a news release from the UA
College of Medicine.
Curcuminoid are found in the root of turmeric, a spice used in cooking
and in ancient Asian herbal remedies.
The study also showed that as well as preventing joint inflammation,
extract of curcuminoid helps prevent bone loss.
This finding is being used in another study by Funk to determine
whether turmeric can prevent bone loss in women before menopause.
Curcumin’s Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Curcuminoids inhibit enzymes which participate in the synthesis of
inflammatory substances in the body. The natural anti-inflammatory
activity of curcuminoids is comparable in strength to steroidal drugs,
and such nonsteroidal drugs as indomethacin and phenylbutazone, which
have dangerous side effects.
Arthritis is caused by continuous inflammation, which is a result from
a complex series of actions and/or reactions triggered by the body’s
immunological response to tissue damage. Moderate inflammation is
necessary for the healing process; however, continuous inflammation
leads to chronic conditions like arthritis and its associated pain. In
a double-blind, controlled study, three groups of patients received
either curcumin (400 mg), the anti-inflammatory prescription drug
phenylbutazone (100 mg), or a placebo (250 mg of lactose powder) three
times daily for five consecutive days after surgery. They had been
admitted for either a hernia condition or an accumulation of fluid in
the scrotum. The results: curcumin was just as effective as
phenylbutazone in reducing post-operative inflammation.
Curcuminoids prevent the synthesis of several inflammatory
prostaglandins and leukotrienes. When the anti-inflammatory properties
of curcumin were tested in a double-blind clinical trial in patients
with rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin produced significant improvement
in all patients, and again the therapeutic effects were comparable to
those obtained with phenylbutazone.
Further, oral administration of curcumin to rats, at a dose of 3 mg
per kilogram of body weight, and sodium curcumin at a dose of 0.1
mg/kg, inhibited formalin-induced arthritis in the animals. In fact,
curcumin once again was comparatively as effective as phenylbutazone
in this application. In a double-blind trial in 49 patients diagnosed
with rheumatoid arthritis, when curcumin was given at a dose of 1,200
mg per day for five to six weeks, there was an overall improvement in
morning stiffness and physical endurance; this yielded comparable
effects to those obtained with phenylbutazone.
Other inflammation-related illnesses? Patients with chronic
respiratory disorders experience significant relief in symptoms such
as cough and shortness of breath. Eye drops of a turmeric mixture were
administered in 25 cases of bacterial conjunctivitis, an inflammatory
condition of the eye. Symptoms such as eye redness or a burning
sensation began subsiding after the third day of treatment. During the
six-day treatment period, it was determined that 23 of the 25 patients
were relieved of all symptoms.
Curcumin has a similar action to aspirin. However, unlike aspirin
curcumin inhibits synthesis of inflammatory prostaglandins, but does
not affect the synthesis of prostacyclin, an important factor in
preventing vascular thrombosis. Any drug that affects its synthesis
(especially when used in large doses) may increase the risk of this
dangerous condition. Curcumin may therefore be preferable for patients
who are prone to vascular thrombosis and require anti-inflammatory
and/or anti-arthritic therapy.
In a recent study, cats exposed to myocardial ischemia-reduced blood
flow in the heart tissues, a condition resulting from the consequences
of a heart attack, were evaluated using curcumin and quinidine, a
standard antiarrhythmic drug. Both of the substances protected the
animals against a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure following
restricted blood flow to the heart.
Curcumin is the active ingredients of turmeric. Curcumin has shown to
be able to block inflammation, stop cancer, kill infectious microbes,
and improve heart health. Below are some of the documented curcumin
Curcumin Research Summary
Although few large-scale human trials have been completed, hundreds of
curcumin research and experiments conducted by researchers around the
globe have demonstrated curcumin’s ability to halt or prevent certain
types of cancer,1-20 stop inflammation,21-26 improve cardiovascular
health,27-31 prevent cataracts,32 kill or inhibit the toxic effects of
certain microbes including fungi33 and dangerous parasites,34,35 and
protect, at least in the laboratory, against the damaging effects of
heterocyclic amines (potentially carcinogenic compounds found in some
cooked foods).36 As one investigative team declared: “[Curcumin] has
been proven to exhibit remarkable anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory,
and antioxidant properties.”37
As if that were not enough, curcumin research shows promise as a
potential treatment for multiple sclerosis,38 and may ameliorate the
damaging effects of long-term diabetes.39 It is even being
investigated as a topical treatment to speed diabetic wound healing.37
Some researchers also have noted an exciting link between turmeric
consumption and a dramatically decreased incidence of Alzheimer’s
disease, an effect that may well be related to curcumin’s ability to
block signaling pathways that lead to inflammation.40,41
Curcumin Research on Cancer Documented
Numerous curcumin researches published in peer-reviewed medical
journals detail curcumin’s ability to protect against cancer. In
addition to its capacity to intervene in the initiation and growth of
cancer cells and tumors—and to prevent their subsequent spread
throughout the body by metastasis—curcumin also has been shown to
increase cancer cells’ sensitivity to certain drugs commonly used to
combat cancer, rendering chemotherapy more effective in some
cases.1-20 Much research has focused on curcumin’s anti-inflammatory
properties, and some new curcumin research suggests that curcumin may
protect the heart and circulatory system,21-31 and prevent the onset
of Alzheimer’s disease.40,41 Still other studies have examined
curcumin’s potential ability to counteract the effects of fungal
toxins in the food supply,33 and to protect the eyes from cataracts32
and uveitis,42 an inflammation of a portion of the eye that may result
As an anticancer agent, curcumin is promising enough to warrant
serious attention from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). In its
2002 annual report, the Chemopreventive Agent Development Research
Group, a subset of the NCI’s Division of Cancer Prevention, details
its efforts to encourage and support research on curcumin’s utility in
cancer prevention and treatment. Because curcumin is a non-patentable
product, such support is crucial, especially for curcumin research
involving all-important human trials, as other sources of funding are
virtually nonexistent. At least one human trial, focusing on dosing,
bioavailability, and pharmacokinetics (how curcumin is used,
metabolized, and eliminated by the body), is under way at the
University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Other curcumin
studies have been proposed to the NIC and are awaiting approval.
Test-tube and animal-model studies have demonstrated that curcumin
exhibits significant anti-cancer activity. Numerous experiments have
shown that curcumin inhibits the progression of chemically induced
colon and skin cancers. In colon cancer, in particular, curcumin seems
to significantly inhibit both the promotional and progression stages
of the disease. Various studies have reported that curcumin reduces
the number and size of existing tumors, and decreases the incidence of
new tumor formation.
Additionally, other studies using cancer cells grown in the laboratory
in vitro have demonstrated curcumin’s ability to prompt apoptosis, or
programmed cell death, among leukemia, B lymphoma, and other cancerous
cells. Curcumin has been used as a topical application to successfully
induce apoptosis in skin cancer cells both in vitro and in animal
models. Curcumin is under investigation as a preventive agent for
increasingly common non-melanoma skin cancers, and as a potential
preventive or treatment agent in breast, prostate, oral, pancreatic,
and gastric cancers, among others.1-21 One researcher understated the
matter, noting, “…curcumin…should be considered for further
development as [a] cancer preventive agent.”43
Curcumin also has been shown to enhance the effectiveness of certain
anti-cancer drugs, and, amazingly, to potentially improve the
effectiveness of anti-cancer radiation treatment by preventing tumor
cells from developing radiation resistance.33 Protein kinase C (PKC)
has been suggested as a possible mechanism by which tumor cells
develop resistance to radiation therapy. Curcumin’s helpful effect may
be due to its ability to inhibit radiation-induced PKC activity.
Additionally, one curcumin research found that curcumin protected
study animals from the tumor-producing effects of deadly gamma
radiation,44 while another found that it protects against damaging
ultraviolet light, which is known to play a role in the development of
Researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
declared: “…curcumin has enormous potential in the prevention and
treatment of cancer.” They noted that curcumin has been found to be
safe for human consumption, even in doses ranging as high as 10 grams
per day.10 But other researchers have observed that more is not
necessarily better. A recently published study out of India found that
among rats fed a diet causing high blood sugar, those given low doses
of curcumin did not develop experimentally induced cataracts as often
as control subjects. But rats receiving high doses of curcumin
actually developed cataracts somewhat faster, possibly due to
increased oxidative stress.32 The difference in dosing was extreme,
but these findings underscore the importance of further inquiry into
the uses of curcumin in humans for a variety of diseases and under a
variety of conditions.
Contrary to the many remarkably encouraging reports on curcumin’s
anti-cancer benefits, at least one study reported that curcumin
interfered with, rather than potentiated, the effects of anti-cancer
chemotherapy.19 Another study found no significant therapeutic effect
against prostate cancer,20 a finding that stands in stark contrast to
numerous other studies that have noted significant anti-prostate
cancer activity by curcumin.12,13 This lack of consensus has led some
experts to caution against taking curcumin during chemotherapy, except
under an oncologist’s supervision.
Curcumin Research – Heart Health Benefits
Some of the most intriguing new research on curcumin’s potential
benefits involves its apparent ability to improve cardiovascular
health. As with many of curcumin’s protective actions, this ability to
improve circulatory system function may be due to its powerful
antioxidant activity. Late last year, several reports detailed
curcumin’s ability to protect test animals against a variety of
conditions that model heart disease in humans.
Researchers in Egypt noted that curcumin protected rats from oxidative
stress injury following experimentally induced stroke.46 Stroke is a
common result of thrombosis and/or atherosclerosis, which leads to
clogging of the arteries that supply the brain with vital oxygen and
nutrients. It is believed that such injury, known as
ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) insult, is responsible for many of the
deficits seen in stroke victims. Researchers concluded that curcumin
protected the rats from I/R damage. They noted that when curcumin was
administered at the highest levels, injury-related oxidants, believed
to be responsible for the majority of I/R damage, were significantly
Among the Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) whose levels or activities
were reduced by curcumin were xanthine oxidase, superoxide anion,
malondialdehyde, glutathionine peroxidase, superoxide dismutase, and
lactate dehydrogenase. As most readers of Life Extension already know,
scientists attribute many of the undesirable effects of aging to the
rogue activities of damaging free radicals, and antioxidants are
crucial for their control. As noted previously, curcumin is a powerful
antioxidant and many of its beneficial effects may be directly related
to its ability to scavenge and neutralize these ROS.
Curcumin Research – Positive Effects on Cholesterol
In laboratory tests on animals and in vitro, scientists have shown
that curcumin prevents lipid peroxidation and the oxidation of
cellular and subcellular membranes that are associated with
atherosclerosis.27,28,30,31,47 Moreover, curcumin acts to lower total
cholesterol levels. Perhaps even more important, it prevents
peroxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. LDL peroxidation plays a key
role in the development of atherosclerosis, so it follows that a
substance that inhibits peroxidation should benefit cardiovascular
Atherosclerosis is a common disorder associated with aging, diabetes,
obesity, and a diet high in saturated fat. It begins gradually, as
cholesterol and other lipids deposit on arterial walls and form
damaging plaques. Oxidized lipids are suspected of playing a
particularly damaging role in the progression of atherosclerosis. As
plaques grow, vessel walls may eventually thicken and stiffen,
restricting blood flow to target organs and tissues. Atherosclerosis
is a major cause of heart disease and may also lead to stroke. When
atherosclerotic plaques restrict blood flow to the heart, depriving
cardiac muscle of vital oxygen and nutrients, coronary tissue dies.
Angina and heart attack are the result. Since curcumin is a naturally
occurring, well-tolerated antioxidant that is capable of destroying
the dangerous free radicals that lead to lipid peroxidation, it would
appear that it holds enormous potential in the fight against heart
Still more intriguing than its ability to limit peroxidation is the
finding that curcumin raises HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, even as
it reduces LDL levels. In a small study of human volunteers,
researchers reported a highly significant 29% increase in HDL among
subjects who consumed one-half gram (500 mg) of curcumin per day for
seven days. Subjects also experienced a decrease in total serum
cholesterol of more than 11%, and a decrease in serum lipid peroxides
of 33%.48 Further human studies are needed, but these preliminary
findings are promising. As one research team noted: “Administration of
a nutritional dose of C. longa extracts [curcumin]…may contribute to
the prevention of effects caused by a diet high in fat and cholesterol
in blood and liver during the development of atherosclerosis.”27
Although scientific investigation into the therapeutic properties of
curcumin is ongoing, it seems clear that this plant pigment from a
humble tuber has powerful healing potential. The data are occasionally
conflicting, but it seems likely that adding curcumin to one’s diet
makes exceptionally good sense. Curcumin appears to prevent certain
cancers, inhibit cardiovascular disease, and quell inflammation, and
may even offer protection against Alzheimer’s disease. Because it has
been consumed safely by millions of people literally for millennia,
the choice to supplement one’s diet regularly with curcumin would seem
to be a no-brainer. One word of caution, however: curcumin is poorly
absorbed by the gut. Its absorption and bioavailability are
significantly enhanced by the addition of an agent such as piperine, a
natural alkaloid derived from black pepper.49
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