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Health benefits of turmeric

Turmeric heart

 

The Health Benefits of Turmeric:

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been used for centuries in the continent of Asia – be it for cooking or medicinal purposes the golden spice has played an active part in the shaping of one’s diet from the east.

The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin which is responsible for a lot of the health benefits associated with the golden spice. 

Curcumin has been studied, tested and experimented on extensively and has been shown to be effective for a variety of health concerns. The first thought with curcumin is that it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, however it has been shown to be more than effective at:

  • Reducing IBD symptoms
  • Fighting diabetes and obesity
  • Alleviating symptoms of depression
  • Reducing fat cell growth
  • Controlling blood sugar levels
  • Maintaining leaner muscle mass
  • Fighting chronic pain symptoms
  • Controlling allergy and asthma symptoms

Curcumin has shown to be an effective Anti-depressant remedy

  • Stress and anxiety can overload a person's ability to cope and create oxidative damage and inflammation in the brain, because of curcumins strong ability as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, it could be seen to reduce damage to DNA in the brain and reverse other physical effects of stress and depression. 
  • Curcumin reduces the inflammatory markers in the bloodstream which travel through the brain. It also prevents low levels of serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine that tend to mark depressive symptoms.
  • Research has shown that curcumin significantly stimulates “neurogenesis” – brain cell formation - notably in the frontal cortex and hippocampal regions of the brain, meaning this extract could be a breakthrough physiological treatment for depression and a number of cognitive conditions.1-4
  • Researchers have considered that the success of curcumins antidepressent activity could be due to an increase in sertonin, norepinephrine and dopamine levels in the brain (also known as the "feel good" chemicals). This study also showed that curcumin significantly stimulated neurogenesis.4
  • There are many courses for treatment for depression and one which is good for someone may not work for someone else. Curcumin has proven to be an effective supplement and one that is without any side effects. 

 Curcumin has shown to be effective in Reducing IBD symptoms: 

  • Bloating, frequent diarrhoea or constipation, gas, abdominal pain, even heartburn and acid reflux can all be signs that unchecked inflammation is affecting your digestive system.  
  • While there are many digestive disorders including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and chrons disease, they all share one thing in common – chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract  (GIT).
  • Microscopic inflammation through the small bowel and colon is a cause – and certainly an affect – of IBS. The already inflamed tissue causes the body to release inflammatory mediators that affect the enteric nerves, and change the way digestive system reacts to what would otherwise be a normal operating procedure. In other words - inflammation of the gut sends a signal to the brain telling it something is wrong. The digestive system reacts (or overreacts) by shifting into high gear, in the form of diarrhoea or slowing peristalsis dramatically in the form of constipation.
  • Chron's disease (CD) is another digestive disorder that cause incredible difficulties. It's a lifelong condition, and can cause serious complications, permeating the intestinal tract and causing fever, pain, bloody diarrhoea and loss of appetite. 
  • Ulcerative Colitis (UC), another IBD is often difficult to distinguish from chrons disease. in this condition, inflammation of the colon destroys patches of the mucosal lining of the colon or rectum. aside from severe pain, symptoms include bloody diarrhoea and stools that contain mucus or pus. 
  • Any one of these digestive disorders is serious, finding therapeutic answers can be problematic. One of the other major points with digestive disorders is the reduced efficiency of the gut in absorbing nutrients. The resulting deficiencies can cause malnutrition, anaemia and an unintended unhealthy weight loss. 
  • The usual route for treatment for IBD cases is usually steroids and other pretty strong medication which often come attached with nasty side effects of which curcumin has none.

In an 8-week study of over 200 people with IBS, a standardized extract of curcumin was associated with up to a 25% reduction in abdominal pain, and two-thirds of participants reported an improvement in overall symptoms.6

In a small pilot study of patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative proctitis (a type of IBD) patients who received curcumin along with the standard anti-inflammatory drugs (including steroids) were able to reduce or stop the medication, and inflammation markers decreased to within normal limits.7

In fact, all of the individuals with ulcerative proctitis improved, and four of five Crohn's disease patients had lowered sedimentation rates, so the treatment inhibited red blood cells from separating from plasma too quickly, as is common with certain forms of the disease.

In another randomized, double-blind, multicentre trial, individuals with ulcerative colitis received curcumin and a drug treatment (sulfasalazine or mesalamine) or the drug treatment and a placebo for 6 months. Of those who received curcumin, just over 4% relapsed. However, over 20% of those in the placebo group (essentially a drug-only group) relapsed.8

One of the interesting benefits of curcumin is that it has not only been shown to reduce inflammatory compounds in the intestines, it can actually strengthen the intestinal wall to prevent harmful bacteria from passing out of the intestines and reaching other organs, such as the liver and kidneys.9

Other scientific studies have shown that curcumin is effective in treating ulcerative colitis. It repairs damage to the colon and reduces oxidative stress due to its ability to inhibit inflammatory markers NF-kB.10

 The fight against Diabetes and Obesity 

Diabetes and Obesity are the two major epidemics of our lifetime, they not only rob us of our health but quite possible the ability to regain health through diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors. However emerging science has shown that curcumin has had positive effects on being able to regulate blood sugar levels, stopping the growth and proliferation of fat cells and can help re-establish a healthy metabolism. 

The damage of junk food

  • Obesity is a condition which can be plainly seen, the damage done by elevated blood sugar levels. Type II diabetes however happens slowly over time.
  • Those that suffer from obesity and diabetes have elevated blood glucose levels, greater insulin resistance, and a greater risk of weight gain due to sugars being stored as fat, and cannot metabolise food properly. This means at a certain point, those who need to be treated for both diabetes and obesity can no longer control their weight and blood sugar levels. Their bodies simply work against them.

Stopping the cycle of diabetes and weight gain

  • Research has shown that curcumin can help "reset" the body's ability to burn sugars, stop fat production and metabolise food.
  • Inflammation is one of the key casual factors that obesity and diabetes both share, high fat diets can boost levels of inflammatory markers in the body, in fact it is typical for obesity to be associated with an increase in pro-inflammatory TNF-alpha and activation of NF-kB in adipose, muscle and liver tissue. Because curcumin reduces the levels of these inflammatory markers, it stops them from causing insulin resistance making it less likely that circulating blood sugar will be stored as fat. 

 Stopping fat cell growth

  • Adipocyte growth (fat cell differentiation) and expansion occurs the same way as tumour cell growth - through angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels that essentially "feed" the fat cells. Along with reducing calorie intake - it is important to reduce the growth of fat cells so that they propel further blood sugar, imbalance and weight gain. Curcumin has shown to be an effective agent in inhibiting fat cell growth.
  • Research has shown that even on a high calorie diet, curcumin was still able to interrupt the process of fat growth.
  • In a laboratory study - animals were fed a high fat diet, the study showed that curcumin supplementation prevented the increase of adipose (fat) tissue as well as preventing fat deposits in the liver. 11  

12-Week Laboratory Study: High Fat Diet vs. High Fat Diet + Curcumin

                                         High Fat Diet             High-Fat Diet + Curcumin

Body Weight (grams)              37.0                                   33.1

Total Body Fat (grams)           20.9                                   11.8

Liver Weight (grams)              5.7                                     4.5

Glucose (mmol/L)                  16.4                                   15.4

Cholesterol (mmol/L)              5.8                                     3.6

Triglycerides (mmol/L)           1.5                                      0.9

(Values in table reflect averages. Source: Ejaz A, Wu D, Kwan P, Meydani M. J Nutr. 2009 May;139(5):919-25.)

 

Curcumin can help to control blood sugar levels

In another study, curcumin decreases glucose levels in less than 2 weeks of treatment, lowering HbA1c levels in diabetic mice without affecting HbA1c levels in lean mice. HbA1c tests show the average level of blood sugar and are a way to gauge the control of diabetes. 

Like the study above there were significant weight differences between curcumin-fed lean groups, diabetic/obese curcumin-fed groups, and diabetic/control groups as well. Curcumin was associated with less body fat and more lean mass in both the curcumin groups, and the curcumin-fed groups actually lost weight 2 weeks into the study.12

One potential explanation for this is that curcumin moderates the inflammation that would normally be caused by a high-fat diet, inhibiting NF-kB expression and JNK signalling. This in turn, prevents the creation of fat cells that would normally be one of the results of systemic inflammation.11

 Curcumin can maintain leaner muscle mass

Another factor that supports curcumin as a treatment option and preventative agent for obesity and diabetes is that curcumin appears to increase levels of adiponectin. This protein normally circulates throughout the body, but is present in lower amounts in obese body types compared to lean body types. Adiponectin is also important for regulating blood sugar levels, insulin metabolism, cholesterol levels, and inhibiting NF-kB activation and other inflammatory markers. In fact, increasing adiponectin levels has been used as a treatment option for people with type 2 diabetes on its own.13-17

Curcumin can reduce insulin resistance 

In another study, curcumin was compared to the drug rosiglitazone (Avandia®) and found to be equally as effective in reducing insulin resistance, inflammatory markers, and fats in the bloodstream.18

Additional research has shown similar results as well, improved insulin response and reduced blood glucose levels. 19-20

Plus scientific studies have found that curcumin may protect against other problems associated with diabetes, such as breakdown of eye tissue, potential brain damage, nerve pain (neurotrophy), and heart disease. 21-22

Could help against chronic pain such as arthritis by reducing inflammation

 Pain is one of biggest grey areas in medicine, it is very difficult to try and describe a specific type of pain as it's so subjective. Everyone reacts differently and have different thresholds and triggers.

Chronic pain is another factor, it means the pain is constantly present and everything in life requires a little more effort, getting out of bed, walking up and down the stairs, getting changed. There are many causes of chronic pain, past physical injuries, genetics and disease, dietary or nutritional deficiencies, one thing all forms of chronic pain have in common is inflammation and cellular damage. 

Because of curcumins ability to reduce inflammation throughout the body, it can be very effective at stopping pain at the source. And because curcumin also repairs cellular damage and prevents oxidative stress, it can actually heal tissue rather than just mask symptoms. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis 

 Rheumatoid Arthritis is a frustrating condition, it is an autoimmune disease where the body is fooled into attacking itself, and is normally known for damage, inflammation, swelling with pain being caused in the joints. RA generally affects women more than men and can start showing symptoms in some as early as their 20s and 30s. 

The immune cells involved in RA include T cells (which can be considered one of three types: helper, killer, and suppressor), and B cells, part of the adaptive immune system that responds to outside threats to the body. Autoimmune diseases like RA show a high activation of these cells without any apparent reason. In any case, they attack the joints and cause serious damage, thus inflaming the cushioning synovial layer, and eventually wearing away the structure of the joints altogether, if left untreated. This is partly due to the fact that synovial fluid provides a natural source of a ligand that helps the body properly form new bone tissue. Any disruption to the synovial fluid doesn't just reduce the non-bone joint structure, but the very ability for new healthy bone tissue to form at all. 

Treatment methods today have had limited success, typically treatment starts with over the counter or prescription anti-inflammatory drugs and may later include other medications that try to modulate the immune system. Unfortunately, a lot of these drugs have negative side effects including stomach damage, susceptibility to infections, and cardiovascular risk. 

Curcumin offers a more natural and less negative approach by providing extraordinary benefits for immune system modulation (making sure the immune system responds to real threats in a balance measure) joint comfort, and protection from oxidative stress, curcumin could be the next advancement in rheumatoid arthritis care. 23-29

 

References

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