The Anti-Inflammatory Power of Curcumin

While attending the recent Scripps Conference on Natural Supplements: An Evidence Based Update, I was struck by how often I heard the presenters – physicians and researchers in diverse fields- suggest curcumin as a potential remedy or preventive agent for a wide range of chronic health conditions such as Irritable Bowel Disease, heartburn, joint pain, and even several types of cancer.  More therapeutic uses of turmeric are currently being studied for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Type 2 Diabetes and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Curcumin is the natural pigment that gives turmeric, a culinary spice that gives Indian curry and American mustard their yellow color and it’s the most active ingredient in Turmeric. It’s now believed that most chronic diseases are linked to inflammation, so it makes sense that a diet that includes anti-inflammatory botanicals like turmeric, but also ginger, cayenne pepper and licorice root, can lower our risk of developing a chronic condition as we age.

In her presentation on Ayurveda Medicine at the conference, Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary, Director of Neurology at Wellspring Health in La Jolla, CA, gave five examples of the anti-inflammatory power of turmeric:

  • It inhibits the development of certain cancer cells (including colorectal, pancreatic, breast)
  • It cleanses and detoxifies the liver, thus ridding the body of potential cancer-causing substances
  • It aids in digestion and has been shown to improve gastric ulcers in clinical trials
  • It has been shown to reduce abdominal pain and discomfort in IBS patients
  • It’s an effective anti-septic
Curcumin also might be as effective as exercise in preventing cardiovascular disease.
As reported in the current Tufts University Health & Nutrition Newsletter, a new study out of Japan, involving 32 post-menopausal women, found that curcumin has an effect similar to that of aerobic exercise on improving blood vessel activity. Japanese scientists reported, “regular ingestion of curcumin could be a preventive measure against cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women. Furthermore, our results suggest that curcumin may be a potential alternative…for patients who are unable to exercise.”

Turmeric, curcumin, anti-inflammatory supplementsIf you plan to take Turmeric supplements, (Dr. Andrew Weil recommends whole turmeric rather than isolated curcumin for inflammatory disorders) look for a high quality product that contains at least 95 percent of curcuminoids and for piperine, a component of black pepper that helps facilitate absorption. It’s best to consult a naturopathic physician or herbalist to determine a therapeutic dose for your needs. (People on blood thinners and women who are pregnant or breast feeding need to use this supplement with caution and under supervision of their physician).

I recommend checking before buying this or any other supplement. Last year, this independent lab tested 10 brands of Turmeric and found that two of them contained far fewer curcuminoids than promised on their labels. Their report (by subscription) also compares the cost per 500 mg so you won’t overpay.