Curcumin: The Super Herbal Supplement That Offers Amazing Health Benefits
Curcumin: The Super Herbal Supplement That Offers Amazing Health Benefits In this first part of this article we will learn much about curcumin (Curcuma longa), from the Indian curry spice turmeric, and its various positive effects on human health. Curcumin is the abundant, yellow, fat-soluble pigment responsible for the various health benefits that many are raving about. Although the use of turmeric is common in cooking, it continues to astonish scientists and health practitioners in terms of its extensive positive effects on human health.
Although there is a lot of information out there, it is essential to know the true facts about curcumin and to know how to take advantage of this powerful spice extract.
Following this in-depth review, we will examine other potential herbal components that will enhance the positive health benefits of this super herbal supplement.
What Are the True Facts About Curcumin?
Curcumin was first isolated in 1815 by German scientists, however the first study on its biological activity as an antibacterial agent was not published until 1949. As recently as 1990 there were less than 100 publications on curcumin. Since then there have been over 9,000 articles published in the scientific literature on the biological effects of curcumin, not limited to antibacterial properties.
The active components of curcumin are unique polyphenols known as curcuminoids extracted from the root of the plant. Polyphenols are micronutrients found abundantly in the human diet, and evidence for their role in the prevention of degenerative diseases has been mounting steadily in research over the last 10 years. Curcuminoids are not specific to turmeric but found in various plants such as the herb ginger which is a relative of turmeric.
What Are the Health Benefits of Curcuminoids? How Can You Benefit From Them?
There is now conclusive scientific evidence that curcumin has the potential to affect multiple human ailments in many positive ways. Thus far, studies have substantially indicated that curcuminoids exert potent effects against infection (strong antimicrobial effects) and many chronic diseases, including inflammatory diseases, obesity, aging, cognitive decline, diabetes, heart disease (both electrical and arteriosclerotic), kidney diseases, lung diseases, depression, anxiety, neurological and autoimmune diseases, and protection against heavy metal toxicity. There is also preliminary evidence of protective effects of these curcuminoids on the development of some cancers.
Curcuminoids have also been shown to enhance the efficacy of and be enhanced by other nutraceuticals, such as resveratrol (another polyphenol, used in part for antioxidant qualities), piperine (the active component of black pepper often used as an anti-inflammatory), catechins (another phenol known for antioxidant qualities, often sourced from green tea), quercetin (a polyphenol found in many fruits and vegetables often used for antihistamine qualities) and genistein (the phytoestrogen found in soy that is sometimes used for nutritional supplementation in persons with prostate and breast cancers).
Curcumin’s Benefits In Specific Situations
CURCUMIN MAY RELIEVE ACUTE PAIN
Curcumin (or more specifically, turmeric) has a historical usage for pain relief following trauma. Studies have shown curcumin to be effective on pain management in patients with osteoarthritis, following gall bladder surgery, other post-operative pain, arthritis pain, as well as for pain in persons with daily symptoms.
CURCUMIN PROVIDES CARDIOVASCULAR SUPPORT
Studies show that regular use of curcumin may help increase blood flow, circulation, decrease blood pressure, protect against cardiac hypertrophy (heart enlargement), inflammation, and thrombosis (abnormal clotting).
One interesting fact is that curcumin appears to significantly reduce the leukocyte adhesion molecules involved in the primary stages of atherosclerosis (these are fatty plaque deposits on the arteries that restrict the blood flow).
Other studies have proven that curcumin may prevent the endothelial (the cells lining our arterial blood vessels) dysfunction associated with high blood glucose and may offer protection from a series of side effects associated with diabetes. Supplementation of curcumin is also associated with an increase in blood flow comparable to physical exercise three times a week.
Daily oral supplementation of curcumin for four weeks in healthy people has resulted in a significant (about 40%) increase in circulating nitric oxide, which may increase blood flow and supplements arterial circulation.
In one human study using curcumin there was a significant decrease in blood pressure in people with inflammation of the kidneys (better known as nephritis). In another study, postmenopausal women were given curcumin daily for eight weeks and its consumption was associated with a decrease in systolic blood pressure.
CURCUMIN IMPROVES SKELETAL MUSCLE MASS
The antioxidant effects of curcumin may block the oxidative damage caused to skeletal muscle and its potency was shown to be greater than vitamin E. Curcumin may block the increase in inflammatory cell signal proteins associated with muscle vascular injury. At the same time, it increases the recovery of skeletal muscle capacity, upregulates the antioxidant defenses in skeletal muscular and improves muscle weight. In skeletal muscle and adipose tissue, insulin promotes glucose uptake into the cells by activating a complex cascade of phosphorylation-dephosphorylation reactions. Skeletal muscle is considered a tissue regulator of glucose metabolism, and curcumin reverses some of the glucose metabolism aberrations in skeletal muscle associated with type II diabetes.
CURCUMIN’S POSITIVE EFFECTS IN NEUROLOGICAL HEALTH
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, a fatty acid component found in fish oil) is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain. DHA comprises 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in the brain. Fifty percent of the weight of a brain cell’s membrane is composed of DHA. Curcumin preserves DHA (a long chain omega-3 fatty acid) content in the brain and elevates the levels of enzymes that are needed for the synthesis of DHA in the liver and brain. Certain cognitive disorders including anxiety, depression and Alzheimer’s have been linked to a dietary deficiency in DHA.
One well known damaging effect common to many neurological conditions is increased glutamate levels--leading to death of neuronal cells. Curcumin has been shown to produce protective effects that guard against glutamate-induced toxicity.
Curcumin ingestion has been noted to reduce the negative effects of stress on brain (neuronal) cell function and spatial memory, decrease anxious behaviors, and improve symptoms of depression. Curcumin seems to be particularly effective in improving severe anxiety in obese females. The potent antidepressant effects of curcumin appear to be related to anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects as well as modifying hormonal stress response.
Other studies have shown that curcumin may slow the cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients. Alzheimer’s is particularly characterized by beta-amyloid accumulation, which leads to a build up of plaques in the brain made up of this specific protein. Curcumin inhibits the formation of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain, and this effect is hypothesized as to why curcumin potentially has the effect of slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s. When curcumin is combined with DHA, they have shown it to be even more effective at reducing this protein through different mechanisms of action.
THE ROLE OF CURCUMIN IN IMMUNITY, OXIDATION AND INFLAMMATION
Curcumin has been shown to sequester free radicals, including superoxide radicals, therefore acting as an antioxidant. Studies indicate moderate doses of curcumin are most effective, and high doses can produce pro-oxidant effects. So, it appears that taking moderate doses of curcumin is best.
As mentioned above, curcumin is associated with reducing a variety of inflammatory signals, most of which are associated with arthritis and inflammation of the joints. The anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin are more potent than indomethacin, a commonly used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.
Many proinflammatory enzymes are suppressed by curcumin. One of curcumin’s most well-researched effects on inflammation is inhibiting the tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α). TNF-α activates NF-kB, a protein complex that influences the genetic code to produce inflammatory cytokines (cell signal proteins). By inhibiting TNF-α, the process of inflammation is alleviated.
Curcumin has been shown to improve symptoms of osteoarthritis, including total symptom reduction of knee osteoarthritis with improvements in pain, stiffness, and physical functioning.
Curcumin also provides a potent suppressive effect on macrophages, a key cell line in the immune system. The suppressive effects of curcumin on other immune system elements has been researched and it has been concluded that if curcumin is taken at higher doses it may suppress important immune functions.
CURCUMIN, OBESITY AND FAT MASS
Curcumin may be able to improve the breakdown of fats in adipocytes (fat cells) and stop lipid accumulation in fat cells undergoing the processes to become more specialized cells.
Curcumin is known to assist with inflammation, and inflammation appears to play an important role in obesity. Particularly, one cell signal protein known as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) has been noted to be decreased with administration of curcumin. TNF-α is a potent activator of inflammation and overactivity of TNF-α in fat cells is highly correlated with metabolic syndrome and obesity.
Curcumin also appears to be associated with an increase in adiponectin production in fat cells. Adiponectin is a protein hormone specific to fat cells which is involved in regulating glucose levels as well as fatty acid breakdown. Adiponectin levels are lower in obese subjects than in lean subjects. It has been suggested that low adiponectin levels play a role in the development of insulin resistance and atherosclerosis.
Leptin is a hormone that helps inhibit hunger. Leptin resistance is common in obesity. Leptin secretion from adipocytes appears to be suppressed with curcumin. The decrease of leptin secretion is related to the increase of lipolysis (dissolving fat). The positive effects of curcumin administration in obese subjects has been shown to lead to a decrease in fat mass and weight.
CURCUMIN’S ANTIVIRAL ACTIVITY
One study found that curcumin was able to suppress replication of the Rift Valley fever virus and its fully virulent form. Further studies are in progress.
CURCUMIN AND HORMONAL BALANCE
Curcumin has been shown to preserve testosterone levels and has protective effects on the testes in the presence of alcohol consumption. In one study, curcumin administration to subjects was shown to preserve testicle structure and testosterone levels despite alcohol consumption. Curcumin has anti-estrogenic activity when administered in moderate doses. High doses appear to be estrogenic.
CURCUMIN’S ANTICANCER EFFECTS
Curcumin can protect DNA from oxidation via chelation of the heavy metal arsenic. One of the mechanisms under investigation for chemoprotective effects of curcumin is the inhibitory effect on pro-inflammatory cytokines, and positive influences on specific enzyme activity that induce cell growth, survival, and can induce cellular death via a mechanism that appears to ‘sensitize’ cancer cells to apoptosis (a form of “programmed” cell death).
Cancers for which there is preliminary evidence of the anti-tumor effects of curcumin include prostate, bladder, breast and non-small cell lung cancer.
ANTI-AGING AND LONGEVITY
Autophagy is the regulated, self-degradative process of the cell that disassembles unnecessary components. The lysosomal pathway is evolutionarily conserved and initiates engulfment, degradation and recycling of cellular contents including long-lived proteins and organelles, thus promoting cell survival. Autophagy is induced by conditions of nutrient deprivation as well as physiological and pathological processes such as development, differentiation, neurodegenerative diseases, stress, infection, obesity, and cancer.
Autophagy appears to be activated by many polyphenols including curcumin, resveratrol, silybin (from milk thistle), quercetin, and catechins (common, but usually known to be a component of the four green tea catechins). Curcumin appears to induce autophagy, and so far this effect of curcumin has been detected in glioma, uterine cancer, oral cancer and leukemic cells.
Beyond the possible roles in longevity, autophagy activation from curcumin is thought to be protective against gliomas, as glioma cells are resistant to apoptosis but readily destroyed by autophagy.
At the same time, Parkinson’s pathology may be attenuated with curcumin via preservation of autophagy.
INTESTINAL, LIVER AND KIDNEY HEALTH
One study noted that, in conjunction with standard therapy for ulcerative colitis, supplementation of curcumin daily offered significant protection against colonic inflammation and improved symptoms of ulcerative colitis for as long as it was used. These effects were seen in both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which are two human conditions associated with intestinal inflammation.
In additional data, curcumin appears to be able to reduce high fat and triglyceride diet-induced liver fat accumulation (steatohepatitis or fatty infiltration of the liver) and in at least one human intervention showed that curcumin was able to suppress diabetic kidney disease. These benefits could benefit people with lupus as well. As researched, curcumin exerts this apparent kidney protection via suppressing inflammation and related cytokines or mRNA (messenger RNA) associated with inflammation. Curcumin has also been shown to prevent structural changes in the kidneys and delay the inevitable progression of kidney disease to renal (kidney) failure.
CURCUMIN PROTECTS AGAINST HEAVY METALS
Curcumin acts as a chelating agent and appears to provide other mechanisms of protection against heavy metals, including arsenic and mercury.
Why Not Just Add Turmeric Into Your Diet?
Depending on the type of formulation, the usual doses of curcumin are 2 to 8 grams daily in divided doses, with lower doses needed when more enhanced products are taken. Moderate recommended doses are between 2 and 4 grams daily in divided doses. It would take a lot of turmeric to ingest that much curcumin, and as it turns out, curcumin has very poor absorption in the gut unless it is biochemically altered in one of 4 ways. This only further increases the amount of turmeric necessary to ingest to achieve the desired health benefits.
If any one of the following enhancements is performed on the raw extract, it significantly increases uptake of the active components. Use of more than one of these technologies can even further enhance absorption, and therefore the bio-clinical effects.
- Formulating the curcumin with the table spice black pepper (piperine).
- Complexing curcumin with phosphatidylcholine to form phytosomes.
- Using nanoparticle technology.
- Converting curcumin to water soluble state using polyvinyl pyrrolidone.
These enhancements increase absorption by 20, 29, 30, and 40-fold respectively.
CURCUMIN’S SAFETY AND TOLERABILITY
To date, over 100 different clinical trials have been completed with curcumin, which clearly show its safety, tolerability and its effectiveness against various chronic diseases in humans. In higher doses, curcumin theoretically has potent immune suppressive effects.
CURCUMIN’S DRUG INTERACTIONSCurcumin may increase bleeding risks when taken with antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs, and decreases the efficacy of vinblastine, ciprofloxacin and cotrimoxazole when taken concomitantly. According to the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, it is highly recommended that if you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use turmeric or curcumin in medicinal forms without first talking to your health care provider.
- Blood-thinning medications: curcumin (turmeric) may make the effects of these drugs stronger, raising the risk of bleeding. Blood-thinners include warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), and aspirin, among others
- Drugs that reduce stomach acid: curcumin (turmeric) may interfere with the action of these drugs, increasing the production of stomach acid:
- Drugs for diabetes that may lower blood sugar: curcumin (turmeric) may make the effects of these drugs stronger, increasing the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
The Rest of the Story:
Curcumin Combined With Other Specific Herbs Provides Additional Incredible Health Benefits
In the first part of this article, we learned many interesting facts about curcumin, and its various positive effects on human health. In this rest of this article, we will review other herbal components that can be combined with curcumin to create synergistic effects that specifically target joint health.
As we outlined above there are several ways that curcumin’s bioavailability can be enhanced to optimize its absorption. Studies suggest that an innovative approach would be combining two of those improvements together to significantly increase absorption of the active components, with these modifications enhancing the absorption as well as the positive biological effects greatly.
Specifically, formulating the curcumin with the table spice black pepper (piperine), complexing curcumin with phosphatidylcholine to form phytosomes, using nanoparticle technology and converting curcumin to a water soluble state using polyvinyl pyrrolidone all significantly improve the bioavailability of curcumin products. It should be noted that treatment of intestinal issues does not require these enhancements. Over 100 different clinical trials have been completed with curcumin, which clearly show its safety, tolerability and its effectiveness against various chronic diseases in humans.
Black Pepper Has Health Benefits? Who Knew!
It turns out that piperine (black pepper extract) enhances the bioavailability of the active constituents of multiple other herbs and even pharmaceuticals. So much so that pharmaceutical researchers are exploring the application of piperine in improving the bioavailability of many pharmaceutical products. Beyond that, piperine has its own independent effects.
An in-depth study of the therapeutic potential of piperine and related derivatives shows that piperine is currently “paving its way to become a privileged scaffold for the development of bioactive compounds with therapeutic application in multiple human diseases.” Piperine derivatives have been shown to modulate the activity of several targets related to neurological disorders, including epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, depression and pain-related disorders. Further research is in progress.
Based on in vivo and in vitro studies, piperine has been found to have immunomodulatory, anti-asthmatic, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and anti-amoebic properties. The most far-reaching attribute of piperine has been its inhibitory influence on enzymatic drug biotransforming reactions in the liver. Studies have additionally established the safety of black pepper or its active principle, piperine, in several animal studies. It is recognized as GRAS (generally regarded as safe) by the FDA.
Were the Three Kings Right About the Value of Frankincense?
Frankincense, an ancient remedy, is the extracted gum resin of the plant Boswellia serrata (BS), which is known to be effective in the treatment of inflammatory disorders like arthritis. Many anti-arthritic natural medicine combinations contain BS.
The inflammatory response represents the first-line defense of the body to tissue damage and/or to microbial invasion, and it determines the recruitment of immune cells and some plasma proteins. The final goal of inflammation is healing, elimination of the external or internal inflammation source of injury, and the restoration of homeostasis. Boswellia helps in attaining this restoration status.
A Cochrane systematic review concluded that preparations from BS “show trends of benefits” (when used for the treatment of osteoarthritis) coupled with a low burden of side effects, citing two high-quality and two moderate-quality studies demonstrating superiority compared to placebo in reducing pain and increasing functionality, and a moderate quality study indicating a favorable adverse events profile.
Certainly, a couple of double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies done on patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA) demonstrated that phyto preparations from BS gum resin can reduce pain and increase functionality after only a few days (a week or so at most) with no serious adverse effects. In multiple human clinical trials, BS has been shown to meaningfully improve pain levels in of the knee. Boswellia resins may also be beneficial and proprietary preparations derived from BS have good efficacy. All these products have fewer adverse effects than the chronic use of NSAIDs.
Boswellic acids also show anti-inflammatory properties in a variety of other inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma. Other human studies have confirmed the safety, tolerability, and efficacy of BS extract in patients with OA. Patients receiving BS as an alternative treatment reported a decrease in knee pain and swelling of the knee joint as well as mitigation of difficulty in performing the activities of daily living, which included an increase in knee flexion and an improvement during a long-distance walk.
To conclude, a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled, crossover study to evaluate the analgesic activity of BS in healthy volunteers using mechanical pain model revealed that the analgesic activity of single oral dose (125 mg, 2 capsules) of BS compared to placebo significantly increased the pain threshold and pain tolerance force and time compared to placebo. BS has also been studied in combination with ashwagandha and curcumin in OA patients, revealing the positive synergistic effects of the herbs when administered together.
Ashwagandha Holds the Key to Physical and Mental Health
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a key ayurvedic (from India) adaptogenic herbal remedy that has been used by humans for over 5,000 years to help the body cope with the stress of pain and inflammation.
Adaptogens help the body systems “adapt” to stressful physical, emotional and mental conditions. This also includes responses to inflammation and immune stress. In ayurveda, ashwagandha has been historically characterized as having rejuvenation, longevity and revitalizing properties.
The root extracts of ashwagandha are known to possess analgesic, anti-inflammatory and chondroprotective (cartilage protecting) effects. In multiple studies, ashwagandha showed to be a liver protectant, antioxidant, anti-neuroinflammatory, anti-anxiety, immunomodulatory, anti-angiogenic and it can also function as a sleep aid.
In randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind studies, ashwagandha has been found to produce positive dose-related responses without evidence of problems with efficacy, safety or tolerability. Supplementation with ashwagandha ameliorates knee pain, resolves anxiety, improves upper and lower body strength, increases muscle mass and strength, supports favorable distribution of body mass, improves cardiorespiratory endurance, improves quality of life, has a beneficial effect in the treatment of OCD and bipolar disorder, and is beneficial for normalizing thyroid indices in patients with subclinical hypothyroidism.
The Secret Gift of Guggul
Guggul is a highly valued ayurvedic medicine made from the resin of the myrrh tree (Commiphora mukul) which is native to India. This gum resin has been in use in ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It is also a component of some incense and perfumes. Traditionally, guggul resin has been used for reducing symptoms associated with high cholesterol and heart disease. However, recently it has been found useful in the management of inflammatory and joint disorders. In multiple studies, guggul has been found to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, anti-dyslipidemia, and antihypertensive properties, which can serve for the prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome.
From current in vitro and in vivo studies, we have learned that guggul has significant unexplored potential effects in the treatment of inflammation, nervous disorders, hyperlipidemia and associated cardiac disorders such as hypertension and ischemia, skin disorders, cancer and urinary disorders. In several human randomized controlled trials, guggul alone has been found to ameliorate symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. In other studies, the effects of adding other specific herbal ingredients to guggul appeared to synergistically enhance the anti-arthritic effects of each ingredient.
Just To Wrap It Up
Why is the combination of different herbal ingredients commonly used for the management of other problems found in a joint health formula? What benefits did these herbs offer that the three wise men already knew about? Imagine the potency that can be achieved by combining guggul with other ingredients like curcumin, piperine, boswellia, guggul, and ashwagandha. In addition, all these herbal preparations have a long history of tolerability and safety and have an interesting beneficial effect on gut health through positive changes in the gut biome (prebiotic and probiotic effects).
Based on what we’ve explored in this newsletter, it is clear that a multicomponent synergistic herbal formula containing curcumin, boswellia, ashwagandha, black pepper and guggul, that has excellent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, adaptogenic, gut protecting, and analgesic (pain relieving) actions can improve joint health immediately, and over time support long-term healthy joint structure and function.
About Devin Alaric Mikles, MD, FACP
Devin Alaric Mikles, MD, FACP is the recently retired CEO and Medical Director of Choices Integrative Healthcare of Sedona in Arizona, founded in 1998. He is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians. He was a licensed Homeopathic Physician in the state of Arizona. Dr. Mikles has been strongly committed to the development of integrated healthcare delivery systems since 1980. He has been a leader in public and professional health education in his region. Dr. Mikles was a hospice medical director for 20 years and has a deep commitment to assisting others through the transition from this life. He has been a student of multiple other systems of healing since 1969. His integrative medicine practice held a strong focus on prevention, health risk assessment and management, nutritional and functional medicine, chronic disease management, interdisciplinary patient treatment programs and humanism in medicine. His primary vision and goal through the last 25 years has been to assist in the development of new paradigms of healing for our planet. He has been writing poetry, singing and playing music since he was in grade school and has published many of his poems in print journals and online. He has published many health-related articles online since the 1990’s.
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