Turmeric (curcuma longa) has long been admired for its vibrant golden hue, capable of effortlessly changing the color of a dish. Most well known for its uses in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, Turmeric adds an aromatic smell and slightly bitter taste to curries, vegetables and even cakes.
But turmeric is more than just a beautiful spice. Behind that vibrant color hides one of the most potent spices in nature, one that ancient traditions have known for centuries to have multi-layered health benefits.
Today, modern research is finally catching up, and making some incredible discoveries. Discoveries that may rival some of our best medications.
So what is it about Turmeric that makes it such a wonder spice? It’s curcumin! Curcumin is one of the principal compounds found in turmeric and it’s not only responsible for turmeric’s vibrant complexion but also all of those health benefits.
Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant, perfect for chasing those skin damaging (and aging!) free radicals out of your body. But it’s also shown some phenomenal medicinal benefits that have the potential to change the world as we know it.
Here are some surprising medical facts that you may not know about curcumin:
Curcumin is a natural anti-Inflammatory
Curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory and as we come to understand that inflammation may be the chief trigger behind many diseases, this is a very important discovery. One study found curcumin to be one of the most potent anti-inflammatory agents they’d studied, whilst aspirin and ibuprofen were relegated to being two of the least effective anti-inflammatory drugs.
Curcumin may be most helpful for relieving inflammation and joint pain associated with osteoarthritis as well as having the potential to ward off other serious conditions thought to originate from inflammation, such as cancer, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol and chronic pain.
Curcumin can affect cholesterol levels
High cholesterol is a huge problem in the modern world – mostly due to our high fat, high sugar diets – and it’s one of the leading contributors to coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure.
We already have plenty of drugs on the market to treat high cholesterol but many of them have serious side effects and can also damage the kidneys. Curcumin, however, may prove to be a much safer alternative.
One particular study evaluated the potential of curcumin in reducing lipid content in patients with acute coronary syndrome and the patients were given curcumin in three doses: low, moderate, and high. Curcumin was interestingly most successful at low doses, and successfully reduced both total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
On top of these results, curcumin may also reduce the inflammation that can damage blood vessels and lead to the buildup of plaque. This plaque buildup hardens arteries and causes atherosclerosis which can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Curcumin can help gastrointestinal conditions
You may never have heard of it, but H. pylori is one of the most common infectious gastrointestinal diseases in the western world. Today we also know it to be the real cause of peptic and gastric ulcers. Though curcumin has not yet proven to significantly attack H.Pylori, the ulcers that it creates were receptive.
Capsule-filled turmeric was given orally five times daily, and after 4 weeks of treatment ulcers were absent in 48% of patients. After 12 weeks of treatment, 76% of patients no longer had ulcers. When given to those that did not yet have ulcers, but symptoms of gastritis and dyspepsia, their abdominal pain and discomfort subsided within 1-2 weeks.
Curcumin can lower blood sugar
Diabetes is defined by its chronic high concentrations of blood sugar and for many, it’s a lifelong illness relying heavily on insulin injections.
Curcumin was tested in tandem with insulin, in long-term diabetic patients, and the duo proved to work in perfect harmony to reduce blood sugar levels. To test this further, researchers decreased insulin to see what curcumin would do and curcumin persisted in its anti-diabetic properties with just a minimum amount of insulin. When curcumin was discontinued for a week, and insulin left to work alone, blood sugar levels actually increased.
Curcumin is preventing blindness
Curcumin even has potential against abnormal eye conditions, in particular uveitis, an inflammation of the uvea that’s responsible for around 10% to 15% of blindness in the United States.
In an Italian clinical trial, a curcumin complex was administered orally for 12–18 months to 106 patients with uveitis. It reduced eye discomfort in more than 80% of patients after a few weeks of treatment and after one year, the total number of relapses of uveitis was reduced from 275 to 36.
Curcumin is a natural antidepressant
A study in China investigated the effects of supplementing antidepressants with curcumin and returned some exciting results.
Six weeks of curcumin supplements significantly reduced patients’ scores on the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D17) as well as the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale.
Likewise another study, published in Phytotherapy Research, similarly found that 6 weeks of curcumin treatment led to reduced HAM-D17 scores in patients with major depressive disorder and that use of the antidepressant drug fluoxetine (ie. prozac) – either alone or in combination with curcumin – was no more effective than curcumin alone.
Curcumin can soothe the pain of arthritis
Another testament to the powerful anti-inflammatory powers of curcumin, the effects of curcumin on arthritis are very promising.
Forty-five patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis received either curcumin, a common anti-Inflammatory agent or a combination of the two. Patients in all three treatment groups showed significant changes but the curcumin group showed the highest percentage of improvement across all criteria, which included pain and the reduction of tenderness and swelling of joints.
Curcumin is a weapon in the fight against cancer
As a natural anti-inflammatory, curcumin is already at the root of what many people believe is the trigger for cancer – inflammation in the body.
Curcumin’s properties have shown remarkable potential against colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, multiple myeloma, lung cancer, oral cancer, and squamous cell carcinoma. In fact curcumin has been studied the most in medical research for its potential in the fight against cancer cells as it appears to have an impressive anticancer effect.
Studies have shown that curcumin can play a role in modulating serum PSA levels in prostate cancer and that topical curcumin can produce reductions in smell, itching, pain and lesion size in cancerous lesions.
But perhaps most startling, a 2013 clinical trial studied the effects of combining curcumin and chemotherapy on bowel cancer cells and concluded that this combination treatment might actually be better than chemotherapy alone.
Emerging studies continue to be exciting, with the potential health benefit of turmeric curcumin to treat Alzheimer patients and its possibility as a safe drug for pain management and wounds, due to an opioid-like effect on the brain. In fact, the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research believes that curcumin could effectively be used to treat burns because of its strong anti-inflammatory effect.
Turmeric curcumin has been used for centuries to treat diseases and the beauty of curcumin is that it’s consistently been found to be safe with little to no negative side effects. However, this does require further study when looking at using it in large amounts to treat or prevent cancer.
Like any supplement, natural or otherwise, you should always talk to your medical professional before consuming it in excessive amounts.
Time to brew that turmeric tea?