If you had to recommend just one botanical supplement, you couldn’t do better than curcumin from turmeric (Curcuma longa).
Curcumin may be the only natural compound that eases pain, reduces inflammation, stops free radical damage, alleviates depression, and protects cellular processes throughout the body.1,2
Although most curcumin extracts can be difficult for the body to absorb, there is a clinically studied extract blended with turmeric oils that over- comes this issue. In fact, it has up to eight times the absorption of standard 95 percent curcumin extracts and longer blood retention time at meaningful levels.3,4 This makes a huge difference in effectiveness.
Curcumin health benefits
One study followed 45 individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, randomized to three groups. Group one received 50 mg of diclofenac sodium twice daily, group two received 500 mg high- absorption curcumin twice daily, and group three received both diclofenac sodium and curcumin. Curcumin was more effective than diclofenac sodium at reducing joint pain and swelling.
Combining it with the drug was no more effective than using the botanical alone, and taking the drug alone was less effective.5
Curcumin also stops the damage of inflammation in the brain. In fact, a clinical study in Australia is using high-absorption curcumin to examine its potential for patients with mild to moderate dementia. Past research has shown that in experimental models of Alzheimer’s disease, curcumin reduced beta-amyloid levels and shrank the size of accumulated plaques by over 30 percent.6,7
Also, curcumin promotes neuro- genesis and can fight depression.8-10 A clinical study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research focused on individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD). This randomized, controlled clinical trial compared the efficacy and safety of high-absorption curcumin blended with turmeric essential oils versus the prescription antidepressant fluoxetine (alone or in combination with curcumin) to deter- mine whether this extract could be a viable therapeutic treatment for patients with MDD.11
The highest level of response, as measured by the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D), was in the group using the combination of fluox- etine and high-absorption curcumin at nearly 80 percent. Interestingly, the single-therapy groups scored almost exactly the same, with fluoxetine at about 65 percent and curcumin at 62.5 percent—so close as to be statistically insignificant.
Two important conclusions from this study are that curcumin worked as well as the prescription drug fluoxetine in terms of measurable changes in the HAM-D score from baseline to six weeks of treatment; and curcumin may be used as an effective and safe treat- ment for patients with MDD, with no psychological side effects.11
For fighting cancer, there are few alternatives that work along as many pathways as curcumin. For instance, curcumin influences epigenetic activity—that is, the way genes are influenced by diet and environment. So while a person might have certain genetic tendencies toward specific health outcomes, these are not necessarily forgone conclusions. What a person does in life affects genetic expression more than was previously supposed.
With that in mind, researchers studied the effects of curcumin on “turning off” colon cancer cells. One study, published in the journal PLoS One, examined the ways that colon cancer cells can be influenced—and turned off—by curcumin. When those cells flourish, it is partly due to a process called “methylation.” Essentially, methylation silences certain genes that are designed to suppress tumors, and circumvents the body’s own defense mechanisms.
But curcumin changes that. It is able to “reawaken” the sleeping genes that power the body’s own tumor suppression activity that keeps cancerous tumors from growing and spreading.12,13
Although colon cancer cells were used for this study, because of the multiple pathways that curcumin influences, it is likely that the compound can suppress other cancers as well.
Curcumin has also been shown to increase the activity of cancer drugs and to decrease drug resistance in cancer cells (i.e., it helps cancer drugs kill tumors more efficiently). Additionally, it protects normal cells from the toxic effects of chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments.14
Taking curcumin in combination with chemotherapy drugs may mean less of the drugs are required, but the results will be better with reduced side effects. In fact, a recent clinical trial showed that curcumin decreased the severity of adverse effects of radiation therapy on the urinary tract in men with prostate cancer.15
Clearly, more research needs to be done but these examples show the astounding potential of curcumin. DCs know that well-being is holistic— inflammation, oxidative damage, and chronic mental stress are interrelated in ways that are just beginning to be quantified.
Curcumin is well tolerated and supports (and sometimes outperforms) conventional medications. As such, it deserves an honored place in in natural medicine to promote vibrant health.
Ajay Goel, PhD, is director of epigenetics, cancer prevention, and cancer genomics at Baylor Research Institute, Baylor University Medical Center. He is also a member of EuroPharma’s scientific advisory board. He can be contacted at Ajay.Goel@baylorhealth.edu.
1 Goel A, Kunnumakkara AB, Aggarwal BB. Curcumin as “Curecumin”: from kitchen to clinic. Biochem Pharmacol. 2008;75(4):787-809.
2 Hatcher H, Planalp R, Cho J, et al. Curcumin: from ancient medicine to current clinical trials. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2008;65:1631-1652.
3 Antony B, Merina B, Iyer VS, et al. A pilot cross-over study to evaluate human oral bioavailability of BCM-95 CG (Biocurcumax) a novel bioenhanced preparation of curcumin. Ind J Pharm Sci. 2008;70(4):445-9.
4 Benny B, Antony B. Bioavailability of Biocurcumax (BCM-95). Spice India. 2006:11-15.
5 Chandran B, Goel A. A Randomized, Pilot Study to Assess the Efficacy and Safety of Curcumin in Patients with Active Rheumatoid Arthritis. Phytother Res. 2012;26(11):1719-25.
6 Martins R. Evaluation of the nutritional extract Bio-curcumin (BCM-95) to preserve cognitive functioning in a cohort of mild cognitively impaired (MCI) patients over 12 months. Edith Cowan University. Joondalup, Western Australia. Study in process.
7 Garcia-Alloza M. Curcumin labels amyloid pathology in vivo, disrupts existing plaques, and partially restores distorted neurites in an Alzheimer mouse model. J Neurochem. 2007;102:1095-1104.
8 Xu Y, Ku BS, Yao HY, et al. Antidepressant effects of curcumin in the forced swim test and olfactory bulbectomy models of depression in rats. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2005;82(1):200-6.
9 Kulkarni S, Dhir A, Akula KK. Potentials of curcumin as an antidepressant. Scientific World Journal. 2009;9:1233-41.
10 Li YC, Wang FM, Pan Y, Qiang LQ, et al. Antidepressant-like effects of curcumin on serotonergic receptor-coupled AC-cAMP pathway in chronic unpredictable mild stress of rats. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2009;33(3):435-49.
11 Sanmukhani J, Satodia V, Trivedi J, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Curcumin in Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Phytother Res. 2014;28(4):579-85.
12 Link A, Balaguer F, Shen Y, et al. Curcumin modulates DNA methylation in colorectal cancer cells. PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e57709.
13 Link, F. Balaguer, Y. Shen, et al. M1182 Novel Evidence for Curcumin-Induced DNA Methylation Changes in Colon Cancer Cells. Gastroenterology. 2010;138(5):S-349.
14 Goel A, Aggarwal BB. Curcumin, the golden spice from Indian saffron, is a chemosensitizer and radiosensitizer for tumors and chemoprotector and radioprotector for normal organs. Nutr Cancer. 2010;62(7):919-30.
15 Hejazi J, Rstmanesh R, Taleban F, Molana S, and Ehtejab G. A Pilot Clinical Trial of Radioprotective Effects of Curcumin Supplementation in Patients with Prostate Cancer. J Cancer Sci Ther. 2013;5:320-324.