Amazed. Definition: greatly surprised; astounded; suddenly filled with wonder.
That’s what one will experience after spending time reading the existing literature about curcumin.
Curcumin seems like a “nice” antioxidant and just simply part of the tasty spice turmeric-until you read the research and articles on supplements about it (and there are many.)
There is an enormous amount of research that’s been done on curcumin, and the vast areas of metabolism it seems to impact.
Even if you believe it’s valuable for optimal health, it’s sometimes difficult to appreciate just how valuable something like curcumin is until you invest the time to read a number of research reports about it.
In lieu of spending the upcoming weeks reading research reports, below is a summary of some of the most important information.
You might want to head to your favorite Indian or Thai restaurant for some curry after you read this, and start supplementing with curcumin on a regular basis.
HISTORY OF CURCUMIN
Chances are good that you’ve heard of curcumin. If not, how about turmeric? If you do a little bit of cooking, you’ve probably used this spice. Or maybe you’ve eaten a curried dish at your favorite Indian or Thai restaurant.
Turmeric contains four major curcuminoids: curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin, and cyclocurcumin.[i]
In addition to its use in cooking, turmeric is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, where its use can be documented as far back as 3000 BC.
The first study for its use in humans was done in 1937.[ii] Then in 1949 and 1972 it was shown to have a beneficial impact on blood sugar levels in humans.[iii]*
To date more than 3,000 studies have been conducted on curcumin.
Curcumin acts on more than 100 genetic pathways, so it has the potential to have positive effects on many functions in the body, helping to support the function of the neurological, cardiovascular, endocrine, musculoskeletal, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems.[iv]*
Because of these effects, it can be an important nutritional supplement for non-chronic, exercise-induced pain and soreness.*
One of curcumin’s most studied effects is its ability to help maintain the body’s ongoing normal inflammatory responses.* It does so through a large number of various biochemical pathways, some of which are yet to be fully understood.*
Because different, undesirable conditions can be brought about through different biochemical pathways, curcumin’s wide responses in the body can offer benefits in a number of different areas.*
MUSCLE AND TISSUE RECOVERY
Hindu medicine has long used curcumin to treat sprains and other swelling that results from injury.[v]*
An animal study showed that using curcumin following an injury to skeletal muscle enhanced muscle regeneration after just a few days use.[vi]*
In summarizing their study, the authors stated:
“curcumin is the first example of a pharmacological agent with a potent effect on stimulating muscle regeneration after trauma. Localized, as well as diffuse, muscle injuries could be treated with curcumin, because it is administered systemically. Enhanced repair of muscle would be beneficial not only in muscle trauma but also in reconstructive surgery and sports-related injuries.”*
One question that remains to be answered is the timing of taking curcumin. For an injury, or mild but acute trauma from an exercise session, a small amount of the body’s normal inflammatory response is desirable to initiate the repair process. An excessive inflammatory response is not so good.
That being said, given the other benefits that curcumin provides, it is not worth obsessing about the ideal timing because the use of curcumin supports optimal health and performance in other ways beyond alleviating soreness and supporting muscle recovery.*
Curcumin has also been shown to increase vasodilation similar to the effects of aerobic exercise, which can increase blood flow and nutrient delivery to tissues in need of repair.[vii]*
OBESITY, METABOLIC SYNDROME, AND FAT METABOLISM
Body fat is viewed as an endocrine organ, meaning fat cells aren’t simply balls of fatty acids that accumulate from too many cans of beer or dishes of ice cream.
Fat cells secrete a number of hormones, some of which increase inflammation. Adipose tissue secretes leptin, resistin, plasminogen, activator inhibitor type 1 (PAI-1), and adiponectin. They also release interleukin-6 and interleukin-1, monocyte chemotactic protein (MCP)-1, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF).[viii]
Excess body fat can be devastating to one’s health.
In mice, curcumin administration had a positive effect on body weight in a dose-dependent manner.[ix]* Its positive effects on body weight probably comes through a number of metabolic effects.*
Adiponectin levels increase with the use of curcumin.* Adiponectin levels are often reduced in obese individuals. Elevated adiponectin levels appear to be desirable in obesity.[x]*
Curcumin has also been shown to stimulate fatty acid oxidation in fat cells,* although these studies have not been followed up with human studies on curcumin’s effect on fat metabolism.[xi]
Curcumin supplementation demonstrated positive benefits in triglycerides and cholesterol in rats, with the benefit for cholesterol coming from the LDL-VLDL fraction.[xii]*
Another animal study showed the use of curcumin had positive impacts on free fatty acid levels, total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL, and apolipoprotein A-1 levels.[xiii]* In vitro research shows LDL oxidation is reduced with curcumin as well.[xiv]*
A human study showed the use of curcumin has a beneficial impact on blood sugar levels.[xv]* Another human study showed curcumin use has beneficial impacts on HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, Apo A, and Apo B.[xvi]*
One of the most difficult conversations for a healthcare professional to have with a client relates to digestive function. In fact, many patients will speak more freely about their sex life and how they hope nutrition and exercise programs will improve it, than they will about bowel movements, gas, and digestive troubles.
It’s a huge mistake to overlook this topic. Immune function, nutrient absorption, autoimmune conditions, and protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism all depend on a fully functioning digestive system.
As is the case in other parts of the body, long-term inflammation in the digestive tract can lead to more serious gastrointestinal problems.[xvii] One of curcumin’s many effects is to help maintain normal levels of inflammation in the cells lining the digestive tract.*
Curcumin has been shown to help modulate a number of neurotransmitters, including norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin.*
Dopamine is important for experiencing pleasure.* Serotonin is important for proper appetite, learning, mood, muscle relaxation, sleep, and metabolic health.* Norepinephrine affects alertness, emotions, dreaming, and learning.[xviii]*
Curcumin has been shown to support the growth of new brain cells, likely as a result of increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels.[xix]*
Long-term use of curcumin has been shown to help support normal serotonin and dopamine levels.[xx]*
ISSUES WITH BIOAVAILABILITY
The research on curcumin is nothing short of significant.
Although the largest amount of the curcumin research is in vitro cell studies, there is a growing library of animal research.
The challenge for humans, however, was that until recently standard curcumin extract absorption was poor. Doses up to 12 grams per day showed little to no curcumin in the bloodstream.
This is important for consumers to understand, because many nutritional supplements only contain simple turmeric root or “curcumin extract.” Curcumin’s reputation can make the product look desirable, but if the curcumin is not absorbed, then it won’t provide much, if any, benefit.
If you want to get the most out of the curcumin in your diet, or are a fan of curry, then make sure your meal contains fat. It is the oil in traditional curry dishes that enhances the absorption of dietary curcumin.
Fortunately, a number of curcumin delivery forms have been developed. Some of the delivery forms include nanocrystals, emulsions, liposomes, self-assemblies, and nonogels.xxi
One method to increase curcumin absorption is to take it with piperine, a constituent of black pepper. This has been shown to increase absorption rates, although there is some concern about the means in which it does so.
To date, the most promising method in terms of absorption and its supporting research is curcumin phytosome.
Phytosome technology was invented by botanical supplier, Indena. Curcumin phytosome technology combines phosphatidylcholine with the curcuminoids in curcumin, resulting in a compound that is very well absorbed across the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream.*
Curcumin phytosome has been shown to be absorbed 29 times better than a standard curcumin extract.* Curcumin phytosome has been well studied as a nutritional supplement. Research shows this form of curcumin delivers the expected physiological results after being absorbed.*
Although phosphatidylcholine is used to facilitate the delivery of curcumin into the circulation, it has its own benefits as well. It is most commonly known to support liver and brain function.*
For now, cucumin phytosome seems to be the superior curcumin option available. Nineteen clinical studies have specifically studied curcumin phytosome and found significant benefits to health and wellbeing.*
It there weren’t so much research to support curcumin, it would almost be hard to believe how many ways it can support health.*
But with over 5,000 years of use, and more than 3,000 research studies, it could be one of the most important botanical supplements in the world.*
Thorne Research offers Meriva-SR, a curcumin product made with curcumin phytosome. The SR stands for sustained release and contains Time-Sorb®, a time-release fiber matrix that creates a sustained-release formula allowing for an optimal curcumin blood level over time* A 2 capsule dose contains 500 mg of curcumin phytosome which is a great baseline level of curcumin.
Individuals with higher levels of exercised-induced soreness might benefit from 2-3 grams of Meriva per day.
CITATIONS FOR THIS ARTICLE
[i] Ahsan H, Parveen N, Khan NU, et al. Pro-oxidant, anti-oxidant and cleavage activities on DNA of curcumin and its derivatives demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin. Chem Biol Interact 1999;121:161-175.
[ii] Albert O. Turmeric (curcumin) in biliary diseases. Lancet 1937;229:619-621.
[iii] Aggarwal B, Sung B. Pharmacological basis for the role of curcumin in chronic diseases: an age-old spice with modern targets. Trends Pharmacol Sci 2009;30:85-94.
[iv] Zhou H, Beevers C, Huang S. Targets of curcumin. Curr Dru Targets 2011;1:12(3):332-347.
[v] Ammon H, Wahl M. Pharmacology of Curcuma longa. Planta Med 1991;57:1-7.
[vi] Thaloor D, Miller K, Gephart J, et al. Systemic administration of the NF-kappa B inhibitor curcumin stimulates muscle regeneration after traumatic injury. Am J Physiol Cell Physiol 1999;277:320-329.
[vii] Vareed S, Kakarala M, Ruffin M, et al. Biomarkers Prev 2008;17:1411-1417.
[viii] Aggarwal B. Targeting inflammation-induced obesity and metabolic diseases by curcumin and other nutraceuticals. Annu Rev Nutr 2010;30:173-199.
[ix] Seely K, Levi M, Prather P. The dietary polyphenols trans-resveratrol and curcumin selectively bind human CB1 cannabinoid receptors with nanomolar affinities and function as antagonists/inverse agonists. J Pharmacol Exp Ther 2009;330:31-39.
[x] Weisberg S, Leibel R, Tortoriello D. Dietary curcumin significantly improves obesity-associated inflammation and diabetes in mouse models of diabesity. Endocrinology 2008;149:3549-3558.
[xi] Ejaz A, Wu D, Kwan P, Meydani M. Curcumin inhibits adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 adipocytes and angiogenesis and obesity in C57/BL mice. J Nutr 2009;139:919-925.
[xii] Babu P, Srinivasan K. Hypolipidemic action of curcumin, the active principle of turmeric (Curcuma longa) in streptozotocin induced diabetic rats. Mol Cell Biochem 1997;166:169-175.
[xiii] Jang E, Choi M, Jung U, et al. Beneficial effects of curcumin on hyperlipidemia and insulin resistance in high-fat-fed hamsters. Metabolism 2008;57:1576-1583.
[xiv] Ramirez-Tortosa M, Aguilera C, Quiles J, Gil A. Influence of dietary lipids on lipoprotein composition and LDL Cu(2+)-induced oxidation in rabbits with experimental atherosclerosis. Biofactors 1998;8:79-85.
[xv] Srinivasan M. Effect of curcumin on blood sugar as seen in a diabetic subject. Indian J Med Sci1972;26:269-270.
[xvi] Ramirez-Bosca A, Soler A, Carrion M, et al. An hydroalcoholic extract of Curcuma longa lowers the apo B/apo A ratio. Implications for atherogenesis prevention. Mech Ageing Dev 2000;119:41-47.
[xvii] Camilleri M. Dyspepsia, irritable bowel syndrome, and constipation: review and what’s new. RevGastroenterol Disord 2001;1:2-17.
[xviii] Kulkarni S, Dhir A, Akula K. Potentials of curcumin as an antidepressant. The Scientific World J2009;9:1233-1241.
[xix] Xu Y, Ku B, Cui L, et al. Curcumin reverses impaired hippocampal neurogenesis and increases serotonin receptor 1A mRNA and brain-derived neurotrophic factor expression in chronically stressed rats.Brain Res 2007;1162:9-18.
[xx] Bhutani M, Bishnoi M, Kulkarni S. Antidepressant-like effect of curcumin and its combination with piperine in unpredictable chronic stress-induced behavioral, biochemical and neurochemical changes.Pharmacol Biochem Behav 2009;92:39-43.
*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.