Super Herb: Ten Reasons to Use Curcumin
While the GreenMedInfo.com database contains evidence for the potential therapeutic use of curcumin in over 700 conditions, these ten are some of the most compelling applications.
People suffering from major depressive disorder were given 1g of curcumin or placebo for 8 weeks in a double-blind study. The curcumin was significantly more effective than placebo. Curcumin was also effective for the serious and difficult to treat atypical depression (J Affect Disord 2014;167:368-75).
A 6 week study gave 1g of curcumin (standardized for 88% curcuminoids), 20mg of Prozac or both to 45 people suffering from major depressive disorder. The difference between the 3 groups was not significant, but the combination worked slightly better than either treatment alone. 62.5% of the curcumin group and 64.7% of the Prozac group responded. 77.8% responded when they were combined. There was no significant difference between the treatments in improvement on the Hamilton Depression Scale (HAMD): the Prozac group improved by 12.6 points, the curcumin group by a slightly better 14 points and the combination group by 14.8 points. Patients’ treatment ratings were not significantly different, but the herb did better than the drug: 70.5% of those on Prozac said their treatment was good or excellent compared to 75% on curcumin and 83.3% on the combination (Phytother Res 2014;28:579-85).
Other recent research shows that curcumin improves the efficacy of antidepressants. When 108 adults added 1g of curcumin or placebo to their meds for 6 weeks, the curcumin significantly improved the antidepressant effect (J Clin Psychopharmacol 2015;35:406-10).
A meta-analysis of curcumin and depression included 6 studies that added curcumin or placebo to therapy. There was a significant reduction in symptoms of depression in the curcumin group compared to the placebo group. Curcumin had to be taken for at least 6 weeks at a dose of 1g. It worked better on middle-aged people than on older people, and it worked better for longer durations (Phytother Res 2016;30:175-183).
Curcumin lowers pain scores significantly better than placebo: 60% of people on placebo still have to take NSAIDs, while only 32% of people on curcumin do (J Orthop Sci 2014;19:933-9). A second study compared 1500mg of curcuminoids to placebo. The curcuminoids significantly reduced osteoarthritis scores, including scores for pain and stiffness. The curcuminoid group reduced the need for painkillers by 84% compared to 19% in the placebo group (Phytother Res 2014;28:1625-31).
Curcumin is also superior to pain killing drugs. When people with osteoarthritis were given turmeric extract or ibuprofen, 91% of those taking curcumin reported moderate to high satisfaction versus 80.4% taking ibuprofen (J Altern Comp Med 2009;15:891-897). And in another ibuprofen comparison, scores improved significantly in both groups, but the curcumin was safer (Clin Intrerv Aging 2014;9:451-8). A third controlled study also found curcumin to be more effective than ibuprofen. Improvements in pain scores were greater on curcumin, and 91% of those on curcumin reported moderate to high satisfaction compared to 80.4% of those on ibuprofen (Arthritis Rheum 2001;44:2531-8).
When researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of all randomized controlled studies of turmeric extracts and curcumin for osteoarthritis, they found that about 1g of turmeric/curcumin a day significantly reduced pain and significantly improved WOMAC osteoarthritis scores. Turmeric/curcumin was as effective as pain meds (J Food Med 2016;19(8):717-29).
A recent review included 15 studies: 13 of the studies were randomized. Among the randomized studies, 5 compared curcumin to placebo, and 4 compared it to NSAIDs. Others compared it to “best treatment,” chondroitin or glucosamine. People using curcumin had improvements in pain, physical function and quality of life. They also were able to take fewer pharmaceutical painkillers and experienced reduced side effects from drug treatment. The curcumin seemed to work in part by preventing the death of chondrocytes, which prevents loss of cartilage, and by reducing inflammation and free radical damage (Drug Des Devel Ther 2016;10:3029–3042).
For rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin is as effective as the powerful NSAID phenylbutazone (Indian J Med Res 1980;71:632-4). When curcumin was compared to the NSAID diclofenac sodium for rheumatoid arthritis, the herb was significantly more effective and safer (Phytother Res 2012;26:1719-25).
In perhaps one of the most amazing diabetes studies, 237 prediabetics were given either curcumin (containing 750mg curcuminoids) or placebo twice a day for 9 months in a double-blind study. 16.4% of prediabetics on placebo went on to develop type 2 diabetes. 0% of those on curcumin did! The curcumin group had significantly better insulin producing beta-cell function and significantly less insulin resistance. So, curcumin may actually stop the development of diabetes (Diabetes Care 2012;35:2121-7). A review of the literature on curcumin and diabetes/prediabetes shows that curcumin lowers glucose and improves beta cell function (Int J Endocrinol Metab 2014; 12: e18081).
A recent review of the literature on curcumin and diabetes revealed that studies on diabetics and prediabetics show that curcumin lowers glucose and improves beta cell function (Int J Endocrinol Metab 2014; 12: e18081).
This double-blind study included 50 people with mild to moderate ulcerative colitis who were not responding to the drug mesalamine. They all stayed on the mesalamine, but, while half added a placebo, half added 3g a day of curcumin for one month. By the end of the study, mesalamine still wasn’t working: none of the people who added a placebo to the drug were in remission. But, 53.8% of those who added curcumin were in clinical remission. When you look not just at complete remission but at how many people were helped by the herb, while only 12.5% responded to the addition of the placebo, 65.3% responded when they started taking curcumin. Again, that is a significant advantage with the herb. 38% of the curcumin group achieved endoscopic remission versus none in the placebo group (Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2015;13(8):1444-1449.e1).
A small, previous pilot study also found curcumin to help inflammatory bowel disease(Dig Dis Sci 2005;50(11):2191-3).
A study included 60 people with ulcers and H. pylori infections. They were all getting standard medical treatment for the H. pylori, but, while some added a placebo, some added a low dose of 500mg curcumin a day. At the end of the 4 week study, although the curcumin did not seem to benefit H. pylori infection more than the placebo, it was significantly better at alleviating the symptoms of the ulcers. The people taking the curcumin had significantly better improvement on total symptoms according to the Hong Kong dyspepsia index (HKDI). They also had significantly greater improvement specifically in upper abdominal dull ache, stomach pain prior to meals and belching. At the end of the study, 27.6% of the curcumin group had no dyspepsia versus only 6.7% of the placebo group: a significant difference. It would be interesting to see what a more typical larger dose of curcumin would do (Drug Res (Stuttg) 2016;66(8)444-448).
This double-blind, placebo-controlled study gave either a placebo or 100mg of curcumin twice a day for three menstrual cycles to seventy women who suffered from PMS. They took the curcumin for ten days each cycle, starting a week before the start of menstruation. The curcumin lowered mean PMS symptom scores significantly more than the placebo (Neuropeptides 2015 Nov 11. pii:S0143-4179(15)00118-3).
Telomeres are the protective DNA and protein caps on the ends of chromosomes. They shorten with each cell division, and when they reach a critical length, the cell finally dies. These telomeres help to determine how long you will live. Telomere shortness is a marker of aging, disease and premature death. The longer they are, the longer you are likely to live. In ground breaking preliminary research curcumin showed the ability to lengthen telomeres (PLoS One 2014;9:e101251).
In the first study of curcumin and cognition and mood, 60 healthy people between the ages of 60 and 85 were given either curcumin or a placebo. The double-blind study found that curcumin significantly improves working memory, fatigue, fatigue caused by stress, calmness and contentedness (J Psychopharmacol 2014;doi:10.1177/0269881114552744). When 37 people between 50 and 90 who did not suffer from dementia were given either curcumin or a placebo in a second double-blind study that lasted 18 months, memory and attention improved significantly on curcumin compared to placebo (Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 2017; doi.org/10.1016/j.jagp.2017.10.010).
When forty adults between 51 and 84 who had mild memory complaints but no dementia were given curcumin or a placebo for 18 months in a double-blind study, curcumin significantly improved memory and attention compared to the placebo. Memory improved by 28%. Curcumin also mildly improved mood. Curcumin may work because it decreases plaque and tangle accumulation in the brain and acts as an anti-inflammatory (Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 2018;26(3):266-77).
One of the unfortunate complications of diabetes is dementia. The cognitive impairment begins developing while the person is still pre-diabetic. In a double-blind study, people who were sixty or older and who were prediabetic were given a single dose of 1g of turmeric at breakfast. After six hours, measures of working memory showed a significant improvement from a score of 2.6 to 2.9 on a 3-point scale in the ones given the turmeric. Measurements in the study suggested that the turmeric may be even more effective in healthy people with no prediabetes (Asia Pac J Clin Nutr2014;23:581-91).
Curcumin is one of the most promising and exciting cancer treatments. Curcumin is loaded with promise for both the prevention and treatment of cancer. A review of curcumin in cancer therapy has concluded that it has anti-cancer effects at several stages of cancer: carcinogenesis (formation), cell proliferation (growth), apoptosis (safe death specifically of cancer cells), metastasis (spread) and angiogenesis (the formation of blood vessels by the tumour that allow it to feed itself and grow). It also concluded that curcumin increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation while protecting from their side effects (Curr Probl Cancer 2007;31:243-305).
Curcumin is very versatile, helping against prostate, breast, colon, skin, liver, cervical, stomach and oral cancer. In fact, curcumin helps fight virtually any form of cancer. Research has found curcumin to powerfully induce apoptosis in even the toughest cases of prostate cancer, the hormone independent variety (Prostatic Cancer Prostatic Dis 2000).
Most recently, research has identified curcumin as one of the most powerful natural compounds for killing cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells represent a paradigm shift in the treatment of cancer. Current cancer treatments target proliferating cells in tumours but are powerless against cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells have the incredible ability to “self-renew,” making them virtually immortal. They originate the cells that make up tumours and then playa role in every single phase of cancer, form initiation to progression, invasion and metastasis (Int J Mol Sci 2015;16:15727-42).
10) Heart Health
Curcumin helps heart health in a number of important ways. It lowers cholesterol and triglycerides and protects cholesterol from free radical damage (Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 1992; Age 1995; Nutr J 2017;16(1):68). Curcumin can also help protect against atherosclerosis by preventing blood platelets from sticking together (Thromb Res 1995; Arzneimforsch 1986) and by reducing elevated levels of fibrinogen (Mech Ageing Dev 2000), which can cause atherosclerosis.
Recent research has also shown that curcumin is valuable for blood pressure and blood vessel health. In fact, it may be as beneficial as exercise. 32 healthy, but sedentary, postmenopausal women were put in a group that took 150mg of curcumin a day or in a group that exercised or in a group that did neither. After 8 weeks, blood pressure had dropped in the curcumin and exercise group but not in the control group. Blood vessel elasticity, an important factor in atherosclerosis, also improved in both treatment groups but not in the control group. The improvements in the curcumin and exercise groups were similar (Nutr Res 2012).
The endothelial wall is a layer of cells that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels. If the endothelial wall gets damaged, cholesterol can be deposited on it and plaque can develop, leading to blocked arteries and atherosclerosis. Flow-mediated dilation (FMD) is a measure of endothelial dysfunction and blood vessel health. It is an important indicator of early stage atherosclerosis. A double-blind study gave 59 healthy people a placebo, 50mg of curcumin or 200mg of curcumin every day for 8 weeks. The people who got the 200mg dose of curcumin had improvement in endothelial function, as measured by FMD. Compared to the placebo, FMD improved by a “clinically substantial” 3%. That would translate into a 39% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease (Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism 2016;dx.doi.org/10.1155/2016/1089653).
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