Get to Know Curcumin
Population studies show that elderly villagers in India appear to have the lowest rate of Alzheimer's disease in the world. What are they doing in India that we aren't here in the U.S.? Researchers speculate that the answer may be in their curry. Indians eat turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow color, with nearly every meal. Curcumin, the active component of turmeric, has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects -- and we now know that Alzheimer's begins as an inflammatory process in the brain.
While curcumin's use as a potential therapy for Alzheimer's disease is exciting, its anti-inflammatory effects extend beyond the brain, and studies show that turmeric's beneficial effects on health are far-reaching.
Curcumin has gained the most attention in the scientific community for its anti-inflammatory effects. Several studies suggest that it may be helpful for supporting joint health by easing symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. In one study, turmeric extract worked as well as a non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for osteoarthritis of the knee -- without undesirable side effects. NSAIDs are often associated with gastrointestinal issues like ulcers and indigestion or an increased risk of heart, kidney, and blood vessel problems.
Curcumin also has an interesting effect on the immune system. It's an immunomodulator, meaning that it suppresses the activity of immune-system cells. This is actually a good thing -- by weakening certain immune cells, it's able to decrease inflammation, which is the underlying cause of many diseases. It also increases the activity of antibodies, which the immune system uses to neutralize pathogens like bacteria and viruses. So in addition to long-term protection from chronic disease, curcumin also supports day-to-day immunity and offers protection from conditions like colds and the flu, which are caused by bacteria and viruses.
Research shows that curcumin also exhibits antitumor activity. One study showed that turmeric extract could, in some cases, stabilize colorectal cancer that wasn't helped by other treatments. It has been shown to effect various types of cancer through its ability to both destroy cancer cells and promote healthy cell function. It also promotes anti-angiogenesis, meaning it helps prevent the development of an additional blood supply to fuel cancer growth.
Other research shows that curcumin might protect against and relieve a variety of stomach and gastrointestinal problems, including colitis, stomach ulcers, upset stomach, and gastritis. Although scientific research for these conditions is ongoing, turmeric has a long history of use for many of these issues in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.
Are you craving curry yet? In addition to adding turmeric liberally to foods, look for curcumin in supplemental form at your local natural market. For those of us who don't eat turmeric every day, a supplement will provide a therapeutic dose effective for promoting good health. There's a limit to how much curcumin the body can absorb and utilize, so look for a supplement that indicates greater bioavailability on the label.
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