Health benefits of turmeric and curcumin
Turmeric is a spice that India can’t live without. Turmeric is called Haldi in India and is used in large quantities in our foods. The yellow colour in curries is due to this very spice. It’s also a widely used spice in the plant based medicine “Ayurveda”, the Indian system of holistic medicine. Turmeric is not only used as food or medicinally but also in wedding ceremonies where a paste of turmeric is applied on the bodies of the bride and groom. It is also used in many religious ceremonies.
Indians recognised health benefits of turmeric long time ago but in recent years there has been an explosion in its recognition as a spice benefiting health. In fact, a quick search of scientific publications showed over 700 results detailing the properties and experiments relating to turmeric. It has been shown to have therapeutic applications such as anti-inflammation, anti-diabetic, anti-hyperlipidemic, antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-neoplastic, immune stimulant, antiseptic, pro-dermatologic and anti-cancer properties.
These beneficial properties are owed to the active ingredient “curcumin” (diferuloylmethane) a polyphenol from the plant Curcuma longa or turmeric plant. The two ingredients of curcumin contain turmerone (oil) and curcuminoids (the coloured part). The ingredients of curcuminoids consist of demethoxycurcumin, 5’-methoxycurcumin, and dihydrocurcumin which has the several health promoting properties. For this reason, turmeric has been rightly termed as “nutraceutical or nutraceuticeutical” a fusion term derived from the union of “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical”.
Although India produces most of the world’s turmeric, it is also used in other parts of the world. Here’s a list of various names of turmeric in other languages:
Arabic Kurkum, Uqdah safra
Armenian – Toormerik, Turmerig
Bulgarian – Kurkuma
Burmese – Hsanwen
Chinese – Yu chin
Croatian – Indijski safran
Dhivehi – Reendhoo
Danish – Gurkemeje
Dutch – Kurkuma
Esperanto – Kurkumo
Estonian – Harilik kurkuma
Farsi – Zardchubeh
French – Curcuma
Galician – Curcuma
German – Curcuma
Greek – Kitrinoriza
Hebrew – Kurkum
Hungarian – Kurkuma
Icelandic – Turmerik
Indonesian – Kunyit
Italian – Curcuma
Japanese – Ukon
Khmer – Romiet
Korean – Kolkuma
Lithuanian – Ciberzole
Malay – Kunyit basah
Norwegian – Gurkemeie
Pahlavi – Zard-choobag
Pashto – Zarchoba
Polish – Kurkuma
Portuguese – Acafrao da India, Curcuma
Romanian – Curcuma
Russian – Koren
Singhalese – Kaha
Slovak – Kurkuma
Slovenian – Kurkuma
Spanish – Curcuma
Swahili – Manjano
Swedish – Gurkmeja
Thai – Kha min chan
Tibetan – Gaser
Turkish – Safrani
Yiddish – Kurkume
Let’s take a look at some of the health benefits of turmeric/curcumin:
Anti-cancer potential of curcumin
Many studies have shown that there are anti-proliferative effects of curcumin on various tumour cells. Studies have shown that curcumin can prevent cancer by supressing tumour cells. This is done by down regulating genes responsible for cell growth and proliferation. These include down-regulation of the expression of genes such as cyclooxygenase-2, Lysyl oxidase, Nitric Oxide Synthase, Matrix metalloproteinase-9, Tumour Necrosis Factor, chemokines, cell surface adhesion molecules and cyclin D1; down-regulation of growth factor receptors (such as Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2); and inhibit the activity of c-Jun N-terminal kinase, protein tyrosine kinases and protein serine/threonine kinases.
In one scientific study that involved investigating the effect of curcumin on triple negative breast cancer that were known to have poor prognosis; the administration of curcumin to the cancer cell cultures was found to inhibit cell proliferation by inhibiting of EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) pathway was thought to be the underlying mechanism of cell proliferation.
In another study, it was shown that curcumin can inhibit the translocation of (nuclear factor kappa light chain enhancer of activated B cells) NFκB to the nucleus through the inhibition of the IκB-kinase which reduces expression of CXCL1 and -2 and abolishes the autocrine/paracrine loop that links the two chemokines to NFκB. Treatment of the cells with curcumin and siRNA-based knockdown of CXCL1 and -2 induce apoptosis, inhibit proliferation and downregulate several important metastasis-promoting factors.
Turmeric and gingivitis
One study showed that use of 2% turmeric gel significantly caused reduction in the mean plaque index, gingival index, sulcus bleeding index, probing pocket depth and major reduction in trypsin like enzymatic activity of “Red-Complex” microorganisms. Other studies have also shown that both turmeric can decrease plaque index and gingival index and hence be used in the prevention and treatment of gingivitis.
Turmeric and cardiovascular disease
It has been suggested that turmeric also has huge health benefits in the prevention/reduction of cardiovascular diseases and related disorders such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, heart attack and stroke. It is the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory actions of nutraceuticeuticals that is thought to play a major role in neutralising free radicals and reducing endothelial risk factors associated with cardiovascular diseases.
Turmeric and pain
Turmeric has also been shown to produce analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects in animal models and in clinical trials, and seems to have less serious adverse effects than many current analgesics.
Studies have looked at the effect of curcumin on pain, stiffness, and functionality in patients with osteoarthritis in the knee. Curcuma-containing products regularly showed significant improvement in osteoarthritis-related conditions. A few studies have shown that the use of both curcuminoids and ibuprofen were associated with a similar significant reduction in pain.
Although there is some evidence that indicates that curcuminoids have pain relieving function in musculoskeletal pain but evidence is insufficient. More clinical studies are required.
Curcumin and autoimmune diseases
A breakdown in the immune system results in infection, cancer including autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, myocarditis, thyroiditis, uveitis, systemic lupus erythromatosis, and myasthenia gravis.
Some studies have shown that curcumin improves inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis both in human and animal models. Curcumin inhibits autoimmune diseases by regulating inflammatory cytokines such as IL-1beta, TNF-alpha, IL-6, IL-12 and IFN-gamma and associated JAK-STAT, AP-1, and NF-kappaB signalling pathways in immune cells.
Turmeric and skin disorders
There is increasing scientific indication proposing curcumin’s usefulness in the treatment of chronic pain, inflammatory dermatoses, skin infections, acceleration of wound closure as well as cosmetic ailments such as dyspigmentation.
Curcumin also moderates the phase II detoxification enzymes crucial in the detoxification reactions for protection against oxidative stress. Some publications have discussed the biological mechanisms of the chemopreventive potential of curcumin in various skin diseases like psoriasis, vitiligo, and melanoma.
Direct topical administration of curcumin on affected tissue can be useful in treating skin related disorders.
Curcumin and liver disease
Several studies have shown that curcumin supplementation might improve non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
This is done by improving oxidative stress and preventing NAFLD by decreasing the production of reactive oxygen species, the hepatic protein expression of oxidative stress, pro-inflammatory cytokines, and chemokines such as interferon (IFN) γ, interleukin-1β and IFNγ-inducible protein.
Curcumin might have a favourable effect on NAFLD in higher dosages. Despite this, further studies with higher curcumin dosage supplementation are needed to confirm these results.
Turmeric on Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease characterised by progressive cognitive deterioration with declining brain activities and behavioural changes.
Curcumin is able to inhibit cyclooxygenase-2, phospholipases, transcription factor and enzymes involved in metabolizing the membrane phospholipids into prostaglandins. The reduction of the release of reactive oxygen species by stimulated neutrophils, inhibition of AP-1 and NF-Kappa B inhibit the activation of the pro-inflammatory cytokines such as TNF and IL-1beta. The antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and lipophilic properties of curcumin improves the cognitive functions in patients with Alzheimer’s.
Curcumin and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus
Curcumin has been shown to reduce sugar and lipids levels in many ways. It is able to do so by decreasing glycaemia and dyslipidaemia in high fat-fed rats, decreasing blood glucose and antioxidant defences. Other molecular mechanisms include anti-inflammatory effect on adipocytes (fat cells) by inhibiting the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as MCP-1, IL-1β, TNFα, IL-6 and COX2. It also has anti-apoptotic effect on streptozotocin-induced in diabetic rats by up regulating Bcl-2; Bax and caspase-3.
Curcumin also reduces the gene expression of transcription factors involved in hepatic lipogenesis, such as the sterol regulatory element-binding protein 1c that promotes cholesterol synthesis and the carbohydrate response element-binding protein.
How do you take turmeric?
The questions to ask is how do you take turmeric? The way most Indians do it is by taking it in their food. Most Indian food will contain turmeric. They usually put a few teaspoons of it in their curry. Another way Indians like taking turmeric is in warm milk. Nowadays this is called “golden milk” in the west. Just warm a cup of milk and add some turmeric to it. Some people add black pepper to it to increase absorbance.
Kocaadam, Sanlier 2017. Curcumin, an active component of turmeric (Curcuma longa), and its effects on health. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr
Vaughn AR et al 2016. Effects of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) on Skin Health: A Systematic Review of the Clinical Evidence. Phytother Res
Ruby et al 1995. Anti-tumour and antioxidant activity of natural curcuminoids. Cancer Lett.
Sun XD et al 2021. Curcumin induces apoptosis of triple-negative breast cancer cells by inhibition of EGFR expression. Mol Med Rep
Killian PH et al 2012. Curcumin inhibits prostate cancer metastasis in vivo by targeting the inflammatory cytokines CXCL1 and -2. Carcinogenesis
Stoyell et al 2016. Clinical efficacy of turmeric use in gingivitis: A comprehensive review. Complement Ther Clin Pract
Perkins et al 2016. Efficacy of Curcuma for Treatment of Osteoarthritis. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med
Bright 2007. Curcumin and autoimmune disease. Adv Exp Med Biol
Nguyen, Friedman 2013. Curcumin: a novel treatment for skin-related disorders. J Drugs Dermatol
Rajesh et al 2013. Skin regenerative potentials of curcumin. Biofactors
Disclaimer: This is NOT medical advice. Please consult your doctor before taking turmeric/curcumin.