Curcumin: A Polyphenol With Promise

A Natural Compound That Delivers


Not many individuals are aware of the health supplement Curcumin, but it is the main constituent or principal curcuminoid (the bright yellow color) in Tumeric (Curcuma logna), an Indian spice and member of the ginger family. Curcumin is a polyphenol--an antioxidant that is believed to have substantial health benefits such as protecting cells from free radical damage. Curcumin, according to recent studies--and they are ongoing--can benefit your health in several ways. However, this is not new as curcumin has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for many centuries to treat a variety of ailments.

In a recent report (December 2010) in Vitamin Research News, curcumin's anti-inflammatory effects are shared, particularly relating to lung health and immune challenges: "Controlling inflammation occurs at numerous levels; a number of studies have elucidated key areas where curcumin has an effective role in thwarting specific inflammatory processes thereby resulting in positive clinical outcomes." Additionally, this time citing animal studies, they reported curcumin to help animals with arthritis experience a dose-related suppression in arthritic signs and symptoms.

Curcumin and Cholesterol

Several studies also report curcumin's influence on lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) and raising good cholesterol (HDL). For example, at the University of Granada in 1999, the faculty reported that curcumin was effective in inhibiting LDL oxidation and lowering LDL cholesterol as well as triglycerides (in December 1999, Artherosclerosis). The International Journal of Vitamin Nutritional Research (1991, 61:364-69) states "curcumin reduces cholesterol by interfering with the intestinal cholesterol uptake, increasing the conversion of cholesterol into bile acids, and increasing the excretion of bile acids."

It should also be pointed out that tumeric has been recognized as a safe food additive by the Federal Drug Administration. Serious adverse side effects have not been reported.

Curcumin and Cancer

Because curcumin is thought to have antioxidant properties, and so may decrease inflammation, its role in cancer treatment is being explored vigorously, though still in its early stages of research. Dr. Timothy Moynihan of The Mayo Clinic shares that "Laboratory and animal research suggests that curcumin may slow the spread of cancer and the growth of new tumor blood vessels. It may also cause cancer cells to die. In the lab, curcumin has been studied for use in treating or preventing a number of cancers, including colon, prostate and breast cancers." Linus Pauling Institute reported in 2005 that "The results of phase I clinical trials in colorectal cancer patients suggest that biologically active levels of curcumin can be achieved in the gastrointestinal tract through oral curcumin supplementation."

In two other studies of prostate cancer cells, curcumin inhibited cell growth, thus showing potential for slowing progression of the disease (Chaundry, 2003 and Deeb, et. al,,2003). And researchers in India showed that treatment with curcumin restored function in rats with artificially induced kidney disease. Curcumin's benefit in treating Alzheimer's disease, indigestion and abdominal disease, arthritis and cataracts have and are now being studied.

Curcumin's Bioavailability

Bioavailable refers to how much of a nutrient or vitamin, for example, is actually absorbed by the body. If Vitamin C is given intravenously, the bioavailability would be 100% as it goes right into the bloodstream. Taken orally in a tablet, the percentage would not be as great. Curcumin's bioavailability, it has been discovered, is enhanced when it is combined with piperine or black pepper. The piperine slows down the metabolism of curcumin, so it is not totally spent in the intestines. The extract of piperine or black pepper called BioPerine is frequently used with curcumin to improve absorption even further.

Curcumin as a Supplement

Curcumin is available as a supplement in many health food stores. You will find it sold under brands such as VitaCost, Jarrow, NowFoods, Vitamin Shoppe, Life Extension and a host of others, so it is easy to obtain. The standard for curcumin extract is 95% curcuminoids and look for it to be combined with piperine or BioPerine for maximum absorption. Most capsules are 400-800 mg, so you will want to take 1-2 capsules a day to maintain good health and prevention; more if battling disease. Of course, always obtain the advise of your doctor first.

You may want to read the article "How Curcumin Protects Against Cancer" in the March 2011 issue of Life Extension. In it, the article points out that curcumin has emerged as a powerful cancer-preventing agent "with 240 published studies appearing in the global scientific literature in the past year alone (italics added)." It also adds that an increasing body of literature reveals curcumin's promise in countering cancers of the blood,lung and bladder. This very detailed article is supported by 93 scientific studies.

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