Turmeric is the common name for Curcuma longa – a plant from which turmeric is extracted from the rhizomes (the base or core of the plant).
Although turmeric consists of three curcuminoids (a derivative of a curcumin), diferuloylmethane (or curcumin as it is commonly referred to) is the primary active constituent. The combination the 3 curcuminoids in turmeric is commonly referred to as Indian saffron.
The primary active ingredient of turmeric, and the one responsible for its vibrant yellow color, is curcumin, first identified in 1910 by Lampe and Milobedzka. 1 Most recognizable as a curry spice, curcumin is also what gives mustard its bright yellow color. Be careful when handling this spice as it can leave your fingertips yellow for days. No wonder it’s also used as a textile dye in some countries! This Indian spice has a peppery, warm and slightly bitter flavour. Its fragrance is reminiscent of oranges and ginger.
Turmeric has a long history of use in Ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine native to India. Classically, it was used to treat bleeding disorders, flatulence, toothaches, bruises and colic. The term Ayurveda in Sanskrit means the complete knowledge for long life. “Ayurveda” comes from the two Sanskrit words; ayus, meaning “longevity” and veda, meaning “knowledge” or “science”. In Western society, Ayurvedic medicine is viewed as alternative or complementary medicine.
If you’ve read the article on polyphenols, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to hear that curcumin is a lipophilic (a compound which combines with, or dissolves in, fats) polyphenol. Curcumin can’t be dissolved in water but is quite happy in the acidic pH of the stomach. As with other polyphenols, levels of curcumin in the body drop quite soon after consumption (1 to 2 hours) so it is best to supplement with curcumin throughout the day. Another factor which curcumin has in common with other polyphenols is that it is not clear as yet if it is, in fact, the curcumin or its metabolites or the curcumin in combination with other compounds, which makes it an effective anti-inflammatory. “One substance that has been studied [to combine with curcumin] is piperine, a constituent from black pepper…In humans, 20mg piperine given [together] with 2g curcumin increased…bioavailability [of curcumin] 20-fold.” If you’re looking to increase your curcumin intake through supplementation, don’t be surprised if your supplement also includes piperine. After digestion, curcumin tends to congregate in the liver and gastrointestinal tract which is possibly why it is effective in reducing inflammation in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
The attributes of curcumin include antioxidant and antimicrobial properties however its most commonly referred to attribute is its anti-inflammatory property.
Curcumin is quite the social animal, able to interact with all sorts of molecular playmates. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory action comes from its ability to regulate and downgrade the effectiveness of inflammatory substances such as COX-2 (cyclooxygenase-2). You may recognize the term COX-2 as it has recently made an appearance, and become a common phrase, on the pharmacological scene as a component of NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) which reduce inflammation and pain. Unlike some of the possible nastier side effects such as ulcers and intestinal bleeding from these pharmaceuticals, there is no toxicity reported with the use of curcumin. However, as it is known to reduce blood clotting, you should avoid curcumin if you are taking Warfarin or Plavix or plan to have surgery in the near future. If you have a history/current problem with gallstones, speak with your doctor before taking curcumin.
In an article cited in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, August, 2009, it was noted that daily ingestion of curcuma domestica extract was found to provide pain relief equivalent to that of taking an over-the-counter analgesic with anti-inflammatory properties.
DISEASES WHICH RESPOND TO CURCUMIN
“Based on early research conducted with cell cultures and animal models, pilot and clinical trials indicate curcumin may have potential as a therapeutic agent in diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis and arthritis…Numerous clinical trials are currently in progress that, over the next few years, will provide an even deeper understanding of the therapeutic potential of curcumin.” 2
Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant, defusing free radicals wherever they’re found. In the case of many forms of arthritis, free radicals are thought to be the cause of painful joint inflammation which will eventually lead to damage and deterioration of the joint. When you combine curcumin’s antioxidant powers with its ability to reduce inflammation, is it any wonder why it is so popular with arthritis patients? It has also shown to relieve morning stiffness and increase walking time.
An animal study published in Science Magazine, April 2004, suggests that curcumin can “…correct the most common expression of the genetic defect that is responsible for cystic fibrosis.” 3
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited (genetic) disease in which excess mucus clogs the lungs, prevents food from being digested and damages the reproductive system. In CF, an abnormal protein called CFTR is produced. This protein changes the way chloride (a component of salt, which is also called sodium chloride) moves in and out of cells. This affects the balance between salt and water in the body, making the mucus that lines the lungs, pancreas and other organs thicker and stickier. 4 The most common genetic mutation is called DeltaF508. When given to mice with this DeltaF508 defect in doses that, on a weight-per-weight basis, would be well-tolerated by humans, curcumin corrected the defect. 5
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Curcumin may provide an inexpensive, well-tolerated, and effective treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, recent research suggests. In this study, mice given an inflammatory agent that normally induces colitis were protected when curcumin was added to their diet five days beforehand. The mice receiving curcumin not only lost much less weight than the control animals, but when researchers checked their intestinal cell function, all the signs typical of colitis (mucosal ulceration, thickening of the intestinal wall, and the infiltration of inflammatory cells)were all much reduced. While the researchers are not yet sure exactly how curcumin achieves its protective effects, they think its benefits are the result of not only antioxidant activity, but also inhibition of a major cellular inflammatory agent called NF kappa-B. Plus, an important part of the good news reported in this study is the fact that although curcumin has been found to be safe at very large doses, this component of turmeric was effective at a concentration as low as 0.25 per cent—an amount easily supplied by simply enjoying turmeric in flavorful curries. 6
“In vitro [test tube] and animal studies have proven that curcumin has antitumor, antioxidant, antiarthritic, antiamylod, anti-ischemic and anti-inflammatory properties.” 7 Even though these studies are recent and have been conducted by authoritative scientific bodies, they are still only preliminary and have not been tested on humans. The best evidence that curcumin can help ease your symptoms is your own story. Please remember to talk with your primary health care provider before taking any new supplement.
Here’s a typical curry recipe that you can try this weekend. Enjoy!
|Red Lentil Curry
2 cups red lentils
|1. Wash the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear (this is very important or the lentils will get “scummy”), put the lentils in a pot with water to cover and simmer covered until lentils tender (add more water if necessary).
2. While the lentils are cooking: In a large skillet or saucepan, caramelize the onions in vegetable oil.
3. While the onions are cooking, combine the curry paste, curry powder, turmeric, cumin, chili powder, salt, sugar, garlic, and ginger in a mixing bowl. Mix well. When the onions are cooked, add the curry mixture to the onions and cook over a high heat stirring constantly for 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Stir in the tomato puree and reduce heat, allow the curry base to simmer until the lentils are ready.
5. When the lentils are tender drain them briefly (they should have absorbed most of the water but you don’t want the curry to be too sloppy). Mix the curry base into the lentils and serve immediately.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 192 | Total Fat: 2.6g | Cholesterol: 0mg
3. Egan ME, Pearson M, Weiner SA, Rajendran V, Rubin D, Glockner-Pagel J, Canny S, Du K, Lukacs GL, Caplan MJ.
Curcumin, a major constituent of turmeric, corrects cystic fibrosis defects. Science. 2004 Apr 23;304(5670):600-2. 2004. PMID:15105504.
6. Whole Foods
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
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replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.