By: Pallavi Vathiar. Consulting Clinical Nutritionist, Mumbai.
Turmeric, derived from the plant Curcuma Longa, is a gold-colored spice commonly used in the Indian subcontinent, not only for health care but also for the preservation of food and as a yellow dye for textiles. Curcumin, which gives the yellow color to turmeric, was first isolated almost two centuries ago, and its structure as diferuloylmethane was determined in 1910.
Since the time of Ayurveda (1900 BC) numerous therapeutic activities have been assigned to turmeric for a wide variety of diseases and conditions, including those of the skin, pulmonary, and gastrointestinal systems, aches, pains, wounds, sprains, and liver disorders. Extensive research within the last half century has proven that most of these activities, once associated with turmeric, are due to curcumin (1).
Uses of Curcumin
Curcumin is being recognized and used worldwide in many different forms for multiple potential health benefits. For example:
- In India, turmeric containing curcumin has been used in curries.
- In Japan, it is served in tea.
- In Thailand, it is used in cosmetics.
- In China, it is used as a colorant.
- In Korea, it is served in drinks.
- In Malaysia, it is used as an antiseptic.
- In Pakistan, it is used as an anti-inflammatory agent.
- In the United States, it is used in mustard sauce, cheese, butter, and chips, as a preservative and a coloring agent (2).
Curcuminoids have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) (2), and good tolerability and safety profiles have been shown by clinical trials, even at doses between 4000 and 8000 mg/day (3).
Health Benefits of Curcumin
It has been demonstrated that curcumin as a plant derivative has a wide range of antiviral activity against different viruses: papillomavirus virus (HPV), influenza virus, Hepatitis B virus (HBV), Hepatitis C virus (HCV), adenovirus, coxsackie virus, Human norovirus (HuNoV), Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and Herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1) (4-7).
Research has shown curcumin to be a highly pleiotropic molecule capable of interacting with numerous molecular targets involved in inflammation. Based on early cell culture, clinical trials indicate curcumin may have potential as a therapeutic agent in diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, arthritis, and chronic anterior uveitis, as well as certain types of cancer (8).
Curcumin has been shown to improve systemic markers of oxidative stress. There is evidence that it can increase serum activities of antioxidants such as Super-Oxide Dismutase (SOD) A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized control data related to the efficacy of supplementation with purified curcuminoids on oxidative stress parameters—indicated a significant effect of curcuminoids supplementation on all investigated parameters of oxidative stress including plasma activities of SOD and catalase, as well as serum concentrations of glutathione peroxidase (GSH) and lipid peroxides (9).
Curcumin – Polymyxin B used clinically for topical therapy to treat or prevent traumatic wound infections of the skin. It would not only increase the spectrum of activity to include Gram-positive bacteria but also combat those isolated resistant. The use of the combination may also reduce the emergence of resistant isolates during treatments, due to the multiple antimicrobial targets of duel drug therapy and ease the selective pressure produced by broad-spectrum antibiotics (10).
Due to extensive traditional use of curcumin in food products, various researches have been done in order to study curcumin with the aspect of controlling fungal related spoilage and fungal pathogens. The study of addition of the curcumin powder in plant tissue culture showed that curcumin at the 0.8 and 1.0 g/L had appreciable inhibitory activity against fungal contamination (11).
For Eye Disease
Clinical trials on the subject of curcumin effect to various ophthalmological disorders demonstrated high efficacy of this compound, when either locally or systemically applied, by oral intake It has been reported that 15-day eye drops application containing turmeric can improve symptoms of conjunctivitis, conjunctival xerosis (dry eye), acute dacryocystitis, degenerative conditions (pterygium or pinguecula) and of postoperative cataract patients (12).
Curcumin would be effective for the treatment of depressive symptoms in individuals with major depressive disorder. In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, individuals with major depressive disorder were treated with curcumin of 500 mg twice daily. It was found that curcumin was significantly more effective in improving several mood-related symptoms in individuals with atypical depression (13).
A woman’s deadly blood cancer was stopped in its tracks when she began taking a daily dose of curcumin_ a compound found in turmeric, prompting experts to call for further research.
Dieneke Ferguson, 57, had myeloma diagnosed more than a decade ago. Treatment with chemotherapy and stem cells failed and she faced a third relapse. After research online she began taking 8 grams of curcumin, one of the main compounds in turmeric, each day in a tablet costing £50 every ten days. Doctors said that, despite having no further treatment, her condition had remained stable for the last five years. Her case was published in BMJ (British Medical Journal) Case Reports.
Dieneke, who took 8 grams of curcumin = 2 teaspoonfuls of purely powdered curcumin each night on an empty stomach is now leading a normal life. Doctors say,her case is to be believed to be the first recorded instance in which a patient has recovered just by using curcumin without conventional medical treatments (14).
Is Curcumin and Turmeric the Same?
Curcumin is a naturally-occurring chemical compound found in the spice turmeric. Turmeric, on the other hand, is the root of a plant which is scientifically known as Curcuma Longa and that’s probably where curcumin gets its name from (15).
How Should You Take Turmeric To Get The Most Benefit?
“Turmeric is typically taken orally; however, a significant amount is excreted in feces due to its fast metabolism and poor solubility.”
There is no set recommended dosage of turmeric, so “until a concrete dosing recommendation is made, dietitians will continue to encourage people to incorporate turmeric into their home cooking routine to reap some of its potential health benefits.
It pairs well with chicken and fish, often added to lentil and rice dishes, and can add flavor to soups or stews” (16).