Curcumin is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory molecule found in the root of turmeric plant (Curcuma Longa). Turmeric has been used as a medicinal herb since several centuries mainly for its high curcumin content. This agent has a polyphenolic molecular structure called diferuloylmethane that can be isolated from the turmeric as a yellow pigment. It is a small prototypical ‘curcuminoid’ molecule, which has effects similar to the other polyphenols like resveratrol.
It exerts potent anti-carcinogenic and immune-modulating effects, which protect the body against several acute and chronic disorders. The different health benefits of Curcumin are discussed beneath:
Extensive research has indicated that curcumin can help to prevent and treat cancer. The anticancer properties of curcumin can be attributed to its ability to suppress the proliferation of cancer cells and down-regulate the transcription factors such as AP-1, NF-kappa B, and Egr-1. (1)
It also down-regulates the expression of TNF, cell surface adhesion molecules, chemokines, and cyclin D1 and prevents the action of growth factor receptors like EGFR and HER2. It blocks the action of c-Jun N-terminal kinase, protein threonine/serine kinases, and protein tyrosine kinases. These actions promote the destruction of the cancer cells while reducing the ability of the abnormal cells to multiply and spread.
Curcumin is also considered a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent. Evidence suggests that these properties help suppress the tumor initiation, and metastasis by controlling the inflammatory changes in the healthy cells and preventing the damage to the DNA structures of the normal cells by the free radicals. These actions help in the prevention of cancer.
The dysregulation of cell signaling pathways due to the gradual changes in the regulatory proteins is the factor that causes cancerous changes in the healthy tissues. Curcumin helps in preventing this by regulating the proteins through various mechanisms. (2)
Curcumin induces a protective anti-carcinogenic effect on the gastrointestinal system, reproductive systems, genitourinary system, blood, thymus, brain, pulmonary system, breast, and the bone. Several epidemiological studies have linked the regular use of curcumin to the lower incidence of prostate, breast, lung, and colon cancers.
The anti-inflammatory action of curcumin is proved in several research studies. Curcumin is a highly pleiotropic molecule having the ability to interact with several molecular targets that are involved in inflammation. (3)
It helps to prevent the various inflammatory processes in the body occurring in the joints, heart, bones, brain, liver, pancreas, digestive tract, and the lungs and helps in the prevention of diseases affecting these organs. The disorders that can be treated using curcumin owing to it anti-inflammatory action include pancreatitis, arthritis, chronic anterior uveitis, cancer, cholangitis, osteoarthritis, myocardial infarction, stroke, hepatitis, colitis, proctitis, and prostatitis.
In numerous studies, the anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin have been shown to be comparable to the commonly used Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs like Motrin as well as hydrocortisone, and phenylbutazone. Curcumin does not produce any toxicity. It is considered safer than drugs, which are known to cause significant toxic effects resulting in ulcer formation, reduced white blood cell count, and intestinal bleeding.
However, it should be noted that due to the rapid plasma clearance and conjugation of curcumin, its therapeutic usefulness has become somewhat limited. This has led the researchers to investigate the ways to maximize the therapeutic benefits of curcumin and improve its systemic bioavailability by combining it with other substances.
In a recent study conducted on rats to evaluate the effects of turmeric on the ability of the liver to detoxify xenobiotic chemicals showed elevated levels of two liver detoxification enzymes, glutathione-S-transferase, and UDP glucuronyl transferase. This improvement was attributed to the high curcumin content of turmeric. The results indicate that curcumin can improve the detoxification property of the liver. Hence, it can be used to mitigate the effects of dietary carcinogens. It is believed to cleanse the blood and remove the dietary toxins from the body by enhancing the functions of the liver.
Inflammatory bowel diseases
The clinical trials conducted to understand the therapeutic role of curcumin have proved that this polyphenol can help in the management of inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. It works by modulating multiple cell signaling pathways and by controlling the inflammatory changes in the colon. (4)
It also helps to relieve the symptoms of ulcerative proctitis, a mild form of ulcerative colitis that causes small, superficial ulcers in the mucosal walls of the colon.
Hepatic and biliary disorders
Curcumin can be used in the management of disorders affecting the liver and the gallbladder. Research has shown that it offers protection against the hepatic conditions caused by arsenic exposure, and chronic alcohol intoxication. (4)
This action of Curcumin emanates from its ability to modify the signaling molecules like pro-inflammatory cytokines, NF-κB, apoptotic proteins, C-reactive protein, adhesion molecules, and prostaglandins. It can help in the prevention and treatment of viral hepatitis, cirrhosis, fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, gallstones, biliary cholestasis, and cholangitis.
Curcumin acts a natural therapeutic agent for the treatment of osteoarthritis. (5)
The management of osteoarthritis is difficult owing to it complex and multi-factorial nature. The disease evolves over several decades and requires not just the alleviation of symptoms but also the preservation of the articular structures of the joints. Curcumin is considered an effective treatment option for this condition. It protects the cartilage from further damage with its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and slows down the progression of the disease. It can also reduce pain in the joints and increase the joint mobility and flexibility thus improving the quality of patients’ life.
Clinical studies have indicated that curcumin exerts a powerful antioxidant effect that helps in the management of rheumatoid arthritis. It has the ability to neutralize the free radicals, which are released during the various metabolic processes and cause significant damage to the normal cells and cell membranes. The free radicals are responsible for causing pain and inflammation in the joints, which eventually damage their synovial and cartilaginous structures. Curcumin, by acting as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, helps prevent these changes in the joints and reduces the progression of the disease. It also provides relief from the pain and swelling in the joints and improves their flexibility.
A recent study that involved treating the patients with rheumatoid arthritis using curcumin or phenylbutazone showed that curcumin produced significant improvements in a much short duration and provided relief from morning stiffness, and joint swelling. It also lengthened the time for which the patient could walk without feeling the pain or discomfort. The study points to the efficacy of curcumin in the management of rheumatoid arthritis.
Curcumin can be used in the treatment of cystic fibrosis, which can cause severe damage to the respiratory and digestive systems. The main effect of this disease is observed on goblet cells, and sweat glands and cells that produce digestive juices. In normal individuals, these secreted fluids are slippery as well as thin. However, in the patients with cystic fibrosis, the secretions become thick and sticky due to the defect in the genes. Therefore, instead of acting as a lubricant, these secretions block the tubes, and ducts in the lungs, digestive tract, and the pancreas. The thick mucus also damages the pancreas, thereby affecting the body’s ability to digest food and absorb nutrients.
Curcumin corrects the gene mutations that encode for a protein called transmembrane conductance regulator or CFTR that travels to the surface of the cells and creates channels through which the chloride ions leave the cells. In cystic fibrosis, the protein is abnormally shaped due to which there is a buildup of chloride in the cells, which leads to the thick mucus production. Regular use of curcumin can help to treat cystic fibrosis and relieve its symptoms by correcting the expression of this genetic defect.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a form of cancer that affects the cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are present in the lymph nodes and the other lymphoid tissues like the spleen and bone marrow and form a part of the body’s defense system. A laboratory study showed that curcumin could help in the management of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma by inhibiting the activation of a regulatory molecule called NF-kB that is responsible for sending signals to some genes to produce the inflammatory molecules like TNF, IL-6, and COX-2. It should be noted that these molecules damage the healthy cells and promote the growth and multiplication of the cancer cells. Hence, it was concluded that treating the patients suffering from Non-Hodgkin lymphoma could bring about an improvement in their symptoms and increase their chances of recovery.
Research has found that curcumin has the ability to suppress the proliferation of cancer cells in the lungs. It induces cell cycle arrest and promotes apoptosis. Apoptosis is a process of programmed cell death that leads to the destruction of cancer cells. The clinical trials at the University of Texas have also proved that the chemopreventive and therapeutic properties of curcumin can help in the management of lung cancer. It can protect the lung cells against the damage caused by free radicals thus preventing the cancerous changes within the pulmonary tissues.
Research presented at a conference in London has provided evidence that including turmeric, which is rich in curcumin, in the diet can reduce the risk of developing leukemia. The incidence of this form of blood cancer has risen sharply since the last century. Modern lifestyle and environmental factors such as exposure to radiation during pregnancy, environmental pollutants, and the use of alkylating chemotherapeutic drugs have contributed to the rise of the incidence of this disease. The studies have shown that curcumin can mitigate the effects of these risk factors and reduce the risk of development of leukemia.
It works by preventing the mutagenicity caused by the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are the carcinogenic chemicals released during the burning of carbon-based fuels and cigarette smoke. It inhibits the changes in the DNA structures of the healthy blood cells due to the exposure to these factors and maintains their integrity thus preventing the cancerous changes.
Curcumin also inhibits the chromosome damage caused by the exposure to radiation. It also prevents leukemia by destroying heterocyclic nitroso and amines compounds that enter the body through the ingestion of processed foods. It can also help in the treatment of leukemia by inhibiting the multiplication of leukemia cells.
Curcumin is known to possess potent cholesterol-lowering properties. A messaging molecule, which communicates with the genes in the liver cells and directs them to increase the production of proteins called mRNA helps in the creation of more receptors for LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) in the blood. The increased number of LDL-receptors helps the liver cells to clear a higher amount of LDL-cholesterol from the body thus reducing the blood cholesterol levels.
A study has found a sevenfold rise in the LDL-receptor mRNA in the liver cells of the patients treated with curcumin. This study points to the efficacy of curcumin at reducing the cholesterol levels in the blood.
Curcumin can protect the heart and the blood vessel through a variety of mechanisms. It prevents the oxidation of cholesterol in the blood. Oxidized cholesterol is responsible for causing damage to the blood vessels by initiating the buildup of plaques. It can lead to the narrowing of the arteries causing reduced blood supply to the brain and the heart resulting in myocardial infarction or stroke. Curcumin, by preventing the oxidation of cholesterol, can help reduce the progression of these diseases.
Curcumin also acts as a natural antioxidant, protects the heart from the effect of free radicals, and prevents the progression of degenerative diseases like coronary artery disease and congestive cardiac failure.
Curcumin has blood sugar stabilizing properties. Imbalances in the carbohydrate metabolism and insulin resistance are the main factors responsible for the development of diabetes. The persistently elevated levels of blood sugar create glucose cross-links with some proteins, resulting in the formation of advanced Glycolytic Enzymes (AGEs). These AGEs cause damage to the cell membranes, and vital enzyme systems and stimulate an inflammatory reaction throughout the body resulting in complications like diabetic nephropathy, myocardial infarction, diabetic neuropathy, cataract, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.
Curcumin modulates the carbohydrate metabolism and enhances the insulin receptor functions thus stabilizing the blood sugar levels. It also activates peroxisome proliferator-activator receptor, a group of important nuclear proteins, which regulate the gene expression and modify the uptake and utilization of sugar in the body. These effects of curcumin help to control diabetes and prevent its complications.
Indigestion & heartburn
Curcumin stimulates the secretion of digestive enzymes like bile and pancreatic juice thus adding the digestion. It relieves the symptoms of indigestion such as upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, bloating, and constipation. Curcumin can improve the absorption of nutrients from the food thus enhancing the overall health of a person.
Growing evidence suggests that curcumin provides protection against neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Epidemiological studies have proved that the elderly Indian population, whose diet comprises of turmeric as a spice, has a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease mainly due to the high amount of curcumin in it.
Experimental research has found that curcumin slows down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in mice. It works by protecting the nerve cells and the brain tissues against the damage caused by advancing age, and oxidative stress.
The protective action of curcumin against degenerative diseases also stems from its ability to block the production of a protein called IL-2 that is responsible for causing the destruction of nerve cells, and myelin, the sheath that protects the nerves.
Curcumin also works by inducing the heme oxygenase pathway, which acts as a protective system of the brain tissue, and stimulates the production of an antioxidant bilirubin, which can protect the brain against free radical injury. Oxidative stress is a major factor that hastens the aging process and causes neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin helps prevent these conditions by reducing oxidative stress.
Bacterial & Viral Infections
Curcumin possesses antibacterial and antiviral properties that help in the prevention and treatment of infective disorders affecting the skin, respiratory system, heart, vagina, urinary system, and the bones. It directly kills the organisms and boosts the response of the immune system against them.
A preliminary study has indicated that curcumin can help in the treatment of uveitis, a condition caused by the inflammation of iris. The study has proved that it is as effective as corticosteroids, which are commonly used for treating this condition; but does not produce the harmful side effects caused by them. Hence, curcumin is considered an effective and safe alternative to corticosteroids for the management of uveitis.
Curcumin when used alone has less absorption from the intestine to the blood. Therefore, curcumin is used in combination with piperine. The mixture should be used in following ratio.
|Curcumin (95% standardized)||250 mg|
|Piperine (95% standardized)||5 mg|
Curcumin should be used in following dosage:
|The general dosage of Curcumin supplement is as follows.|
|Indigestion or Dyspepsia||250 mg twice daily|
|Arthritis (Joint Pains)||500 twice daily|
|Allergies & Asthma||500 mg twice daily|
|Skin Diseases (Eczema)||600 mg thrice daily|
|Bacterial & Viral Infections||600 mg thrice daily|
|Cancer||1000 mg twice daily|
|Maximum Possible Dosage||2000 mg Per Day (in divided doses)|
|Best Time to Take: After meal|
Curcumin Side Effects
(What are the side effects of Curcumin?)
The common side effects of Curcumin include loose motions, increased risk of bleeding, hyperactive contractions of the gallbladder, abnormal levels of liver enzymes, and increased menstrual flow. Pregnant women may develop strong uterine contractions due to the use of curcumin leading to miscarriage.
Some people may develop an allergic reaction to curcumin, especially after the exposure of the skin to turmeric, resulting in symptoms like mild itching rash, swelling of the throat or the lips, breathing difficulties, and hives. Patients having a history of allergy to turmeric or any curcumin product should refrain from using it.
Curcumin is also known to interfere with the action of anticoagulants like clopidogrel, aspirin, and warfarin. Hence, patients using these medications should avoid using Curcumin.