The potential health benefits of turmeric supplements, including capsules, powders, and tea make this one of the most talked about herbs within the natural health community. In fact, what many of us already knew about turmeric (Curcuma longa) is finally being backed with scientific research. New clinical tests are revealing new insight into what makes this herb so special and worth making a part of your healthy diet.
What is Turmeric Good For?
Turmeric contains an important compound known as curcumin. If you are curious, curcumin is a molecule found in the turmeric rhizome, and it’s credited with providing the medicinal benefits that may be found when using turmeric capsules, powders and teas.
If you Search the National Center for Biotechnology Information website for information on the brightly colored herb, you find more than 3800 published articles about the benefits of turmeric. As you look through the results, you will quickly learn that curcumin is just as important, with more than 9600 articles published. How important? Its medicinal benefits may include support for:
- Digestive System Health
- Weight Loss and Weight Management
- Immune System Support
- Brain Health
- Mood and Behavior
- Circulatory System and Blood Sugar
- Joint Health
Thanks to molecular research, we know more about turmeric and curcumin than ever before. In the article Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials, published online by the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists, researchers write:
Curcumin is a highly pleiotropic molecule that was first shown to exhibit antibacterial activity in 1949. Since then, this polyphenol has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory, hypoglycemic, antioxidant, wound-healing, and antimicrobial activities. Extensive preclinical studies over the past three decades have indicated curcumin’s therapeutic potential against a wide range of human diseases. In addition, curcumin has been shown to directly interact with numerous signaling molecules. These preclinical studies have formed a solid basis for evaluating curcumin’s efficacy in clinical trials.
Many articles echo the above research. Anyone who has never heard of turmeric, or only know of it because it is the main spice in curry, might want to take notice of its medicinal properties. Below, we examine some of those claims and the clinical research that seeks to add credibility to turmeric.
Digestive System Health
The digestive system plays an important role in your overall health. Not only does gut bacteria quality affect how we break down and absorb nutrients, it may also play a role in managing head pain, including migraines.
Digestive disorders can affect anyone. Why our bodies react poorly to certain liquids, foods and other foreign substances isn’t entirely clear; however, its impact on our economy is obvious. A recent study into the effects of turmeric in the treatment of digestive disorders notes these problems cost the U.S. $142 billion in 2009, followed by digestive cancers and liver disease at $24.1 billion and $13.1 billion respectively.
During their study, researchers looked at the use of turmeric to treat digestive disorders, including dyspepsia, peptic ulcer disease, irritable bowel disease (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These conditions are traditionally treated with drugs and surgery, in addition to other forms of psychological therapies.
Over the years, pre-clinical and clinical studies have shown numerous potential therapeutic activities, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant antimicrobial, antiplatelet, and anticancer effects, as well as choleretic and carminative actions.
In pre-clinical trials, turmeric was shown to potentially protect the GI tract through its anti-inflammatory effect. It also demonstrated its ability to increase the secretion of gastrin, secretin, and bicarbonate, gastric wall mucus and pancreatic enzyme, while inhibiting intestinal spasms and ulcer formation caused by stress, alcohol, indomethacin, pyloric ligation, and reserpine.
In one randomized controlled trial conducted with 116 patients suffering bowel disorders, those who were given turmeric showed improvement after 7 days. 87% of the group experienced symptom relief from dyspepsia compared to 53% of the placebo group. Researchers noted that this was “statistically significant and clinically important.”
Research into the potential benefits of turmeric to digestive health is promising; although, more clinical trials are needed to verify claims before turmeric can be used for therapies that treat certain digestive disorders.
Weight Loss and Weight Management
Body fat, or adipose tissue, is loose connective tissue that stores energy, cushions and insulates the body. Adipose tissue is identified in two forms: White adipose tissue (WAT) that stores energy and comprises 20-25% of body weight; and brown adipose tissue that is stored and used to generate body heat.
The challenge with white adipose tissue is that the body will only begin to burn this fat if there is an energy deficit, which makes it hard to remove. Researchers are now looking at the possibility that ingesting turmeric may result in the browning of WAT. This could mean that stubborn body fat used for energy could be stimulated like brown adipose tissue to release as heat.
One randomized, controlled study evaluated the effect of curcumin on subjects affected by metabolic syndromes. After 60 days, researchers found that patients losts more weight when taking turmeric:
Curcumin administration increased weight loss from 1.88 to 4.91%, enhanced percentage reduction of body fat (from 0.70 to 8.43%), increased waistline reduction (from 2.36 to 4.14%), improved hip circumference reduction from 0.74 to 2.51% and enhanced reduction of BMI (from 2.10 to 6.43%) (p < 0.01 for all comparisons). Phosphatidylserine did not show any statistical significant effect. Tolerability was very good for both treatments, and no drop-out was reported.
Other preliminary studies are investigating how turmeric may interact with the different systems of the digestive system, including the stomach, upper and lower colon.
Immune System Support
The immune system is the body’s primary defense against foreign and microbial challenges. Supplements that contain vitamins and minerals are normally recommended to support the surface barriers, biological systems and natural killer cells that help keep our bodies healthy. Now, scientific studies show that turmeric contains medicinal properties that may stimulate activities in the body that could have a significant impact on how we look at disease prevention.
An article from the Division of Molecular Medicine, Bose Institute in Kolkata, India, looked at curcumin and its ability to “resurrect” the immune system.
More recently curcumin has been found to have anti-cancer properties that affect a variety of biological pathways involved in mutagenesis, oncogene expression, cell cycle regulation, apoptosis, angiogenesis and metastasis. Several studies were conducted to explore the anti-cancer properties of curcumin and it was shown that curcumin modulates multiple cell signaling pathways which include cell proliferation, cell survival, apoptosis or cell death, as well as controls tumor suppressor pathway death receptor pathway, mitochondrial pathways, and protein kinase pathway, thereby affecting tumor cell growth
The same article also notes:
Curcumin inhibits several cell proliferation signalling pathways that are relentlessly upregulated in the progression of cancer. Curcumin inhibits the expression of nuclear factor NFκB that regulates cell proliferation, metastasis, angiogenesis, apoptosis and resistance to chemotherapy.
Turmeric is also credited for its antioxidant content. Researchers found several mechanisms of actions in turmeric that provide free radical scavenging compounds, including phenols and flavonoids. These plant compounds are believed to support the healthy development of cells and promote the body’s natural immune response.
The human brain is an organ at the literal top of the central nervous system and is responsible for several functions, such as motor skill, involuntary organ functions, reasoning and abstract thought. Despite understanding what the brain does, we don’t have all the answers due to its biological and physiological complexity.
This complexity also makes addressing cognitive challenges difficult. Researchers at the Department of Neurology in Sepulveda, Calif., understand this hurdle but also recognize that curcumin contains many clinically studied chemical properties that have demonstrated potentially medicinal benefits in a healthy brain. While their research does not account for the large-scale human studies needed to verify their research, they do suggest that turmeric may hold some answers.
Curcumin demonstrates neuroprotective action in Alzheimer’s disease, tardive dyskinesia, major depression, epilepsy, and other related neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders.
The Research continues,
A growing body of evidence indicates that oxidative stress, free radicals, beta amyloid, cerebral deregulation caused by bio-metal toxicity and abnormal inflammatory reactions contribute to the key event in Alzheimer’s disease pathology. Due to various effects of curcumin, such as decreased Beta-amyloid plaques, delayed degradation of neurons, metal-chelation, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and decreased microglia formation, the overall memory in patients with AD has improved.
In the article Neuroprotective Effect of Curcumin, researchers examine how dietary curcumin may provide medicinal benefits during normal aging.
Because of its pluripotency, oral safety, long history of use, and inexpensive cost, curcumin has great potential for the prevention of multiple neurological conditions for which current therapeutics are less than optimal. Examples reviewed include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntingtin’s, head trauma, aging, and stroke.
These researchers suggest that more needs to be done to learn about the potential benefits of turmeric. More development from the private sector, preclinical and clinical development, and support from either government or philanthropic groups may push turmeric research forward.
Mood and Behavior
Currently, researchers are studying the link between a deficiency of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and neurocognitive disorders. DHA is the most prevalent omega-3 fatty acid and is essential, which means it much be consumed through diet.
Research also suggests that not everybody synthesizes DHA in the same way. Clinical research is currently looking at the effect of turmeric on DHA synthesis in the liver.
Extensive reports using rodent models have identified that deficiency of DHA during growth and development causes significant learning and memory impairments. In addition to being critical for brain development dietary DHA is particularly important during challenging situations such as aging, or brain injury. Notably, low levels of DHA are associated with generalized anxiety and supplementation with DHA has been shown to have anxiolytic effects. Thus, n-3 fatty acids play a critical role in brain health and the overall prevention of cognitive disease.
Their studies show that when the compounds in turmeric are synthesized in the liver, they may act as a precursor to DHA synthesis, which may support a healthy brain.
Circulatory System and Blood Sugar
Turmeric contains polyphenols that are responsible for the yellow color of the herb. Polyphenols provide free radical scavenging factors that seek to support a healthy immune response to internal challenges and support for healthy cellular development. It is also believed to support “good” cholesterol levels.
On study found that after taking curcumin extract, cholesterol-related parameters were modified. Specifically, low-density lipoprotein chlesterol (LDL) decreased when compared to the placebo group.
Turmeric is also believed to support blood sugar levels already within the normal range. Some research found that curcumin supports a healthy pacrease and pancreatic cell function.
Curcumin can reduce blood glucose level by reducing the hepatic glucose production, suppression of hyperglycemia-induced inflammatory state, stimulation of glucose uptake by up-regulation of GLUT4, GLUT2 and GLUT3 genes expressions, activation of AMP kinase, promoting the PPAR ligand-binding activity, stimulation of insulin secretion from pancreatic tissues, improvement in pancreatic cell function, and reduction of insulin resistance.
Turmeric is believed to interact with receptors in the body and support the synthesis of compounds that promote normal blood sugar and insulin production.
Turmeric may support the cartilage and fluid found between joints. In healthy joints, particularly in knees, hips, and hands, cartilage acts as a cushion between bone structures, and joint fluid carries nutrients. Joints link the skeletal system together and allow for articulation of major structures. Bones are connected together by different types of binding tissue that are made from collagen fibers, cartilage, fibrous membranes and fluids.
Some research points to compounds in turmeric that may block inflammatory cytokines and enzymes, including cyclooxygenase-2. Arthritis.org also recognizes several studies identifying the potential of turmeric and curcumin to provide relief to certain disorders.
Several recent studies show that turmeric/curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties and modifies immune system responses. A 2006 study showed turmeric was more effective at preventing joint inflammation than reducing joint inflammation.
Based on these studies, when combined with other compounds, turmeric may at least provide temporary relief from occasional pain.
Super Bio-Curcumin 400mg from Life Extension uses turmeric extract with a 25:1 ratio standardized to 95% total curcuminoids complex with essential oils of turmeric rhizome.
This supplement may provide temporary relief from occasional pain, support a healthy digestive system, support “good” cholesterol and blood sugar levels already within the normal range.
Botanical Treasures from Natura Health Products is a powdered extract of turmeric rhizome extract standardized to 95% curcumnoids. Plus, this formula contains green tea leaf, quercetin, holy basil, ginger and more to support optimal absorption and antioxidant properties.
This supplements may support a healthy immune system and response to internal challenges as part of healthy diet and exercise.
Turmeric Root Organic Tea from Alvita Teas contains organic turmeric root. The culinary spice known as turmeric had a long tradition of use in India and China. In ancient systems of medicine turmeric was given to provide temporary relief from occasional discomfort.
What do you think? Are you now a believer of turmeric’s health benefits, or do you want to see more clinical research before starting a supplement regime? Let us know in the comments below!