Sometimes, a “one-size-fits-all” approach to anything sounds too easy. It almost seems too good to be true. But occasionally, there really is an “all-in-one” solution.
In this case, it’s curcumin.
That’s because if you could choose just one treatment for almost every disease, curcumin from turmeric (Curcuma longa) should be it. Traditional practice and modern research show that this amazing compound has the potential to prevent or cure an astounding range of illnesses:
Dried and powdered turmeric has been used in India as both a spice and a medicine for centuries. In addition to flavoring food, turmeric was used to treat conditions as varied as toothache, gas, chest pain, and menstrual problems. Modern research has found that the effectiveness of turmeric is because of a natural compound it contains: curcumin. By extracting curcumin from turmeric, we have an even more powerful way to treat disease. Additionally, curcumin with enhanced absorption is a natural way to treat disease with an ingredient that is as potent – or even more so – as prescription drugs, but without potentially adverse side effects.
One of the reasons that curcumin works so well on such a wide range of diseases is because it is such a powerful anti-inflammatory. We know that almost all chronic diseases – from diabetes to heart disease to arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease – have something in common: unchecked, destructive inflammation. Unlike synthetic drugs, which typically work against only a single inflammation pathway, natural curcumin reduces inflammation through its effects on multiple inflammation targets.1
Suppresses the activation of the NF-kB, which regulates the expression of pro-inflammatory gene products
Inhibits COX-2, the enzyme linked to most inflammation
Also inhibits 5-LOX, another pro-inflammatory enzyme
Reduces the expression of cell surface adhesion molecules linked to inflammation
Inhibits the activity of TNF, one of the most pro-inflammatory cytokines (cell-signaling protein molecules)
It’s because of this multi-faceted anti-inflammatory activity, as well as its ability to kill tumor cells, increase activity of protective antioxidants such as glutathione, and modulate tumor growth cell factors, that curcumin is effective against hundreds of diseases.2
Curcumin is also a potent antioxidant, able to neutralize unstable, reactive free radicals. Free radicals are molecules with a missing electron that stabilize themselves by “stealing” electrons from neighboring molecules, creating another free radical in the process. This chain reaction of free radical formation is known as a free radical cascade, and it can result in cellular damage (called oxidative stress) leading to inflammation and chronic disease – including cancer. Free radicals can negatively impact all body systems, including the immune system. Curcumin, like other antioxidants, is able to stop free radical cascades without becoming unstable itself. The dual properties of curcumin as both anti-inflammatory and super antioxidant may also explain why it has no side effects.
That’s because curcumin is not a synthetic drug that poisons your body’s systems – instead, it works with your body’s own processes to help bring back natural function.
Inflammation is normal, but it can bring about intensive damage. Although it is a natural physical response, triggered when the body begins to repair damage or injuries, inflammation should be limited. Even though inflammation is commonly associated with pain, chronic inflammation is associated with many disease. So, one of the keys to improving chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, etc.) is stopping the cycle of chronic inflammation. Curcumin, unlike synthetic drugs, works on multiple inflammation pathways to help return the body to a normal inflammation balance. Additionally, curcumin has specific, unique mechanisms of action that make it invaluable in treating many – if not most – chronic diseases.
The hallmarks of osteoarthritis are cartilage destruction and inflammation - two conditions that curcumin is able to prevent. An interesting property of curcumin is that it is able to protect chondrocytes, specialized cells found in joint cartilage, from being broken down by inflammatory compounds (IL-1beta, MMP3) in the body.3 In fact, in a recent clinical study that looked at a combination of highly absorbable curcumin and boswellia (also an excellent natural anti-inflammatory) or the prescription drug celecoxib (Celebrex®) in the treatment of patients with arthritis, the herbal combination worked better than the drug – with no side effects!4 The researchers in this study found that 93% of the participants receiving the herbal combination reported reduced or no pain, compared to only 86% of the prescription drug group. The group receiving the special curcumin and boswellia combination were also able to walk further, and had less pain and better range of movement, all without significant adverse effects. Prescription drugs such as celecoxib are classified as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and are known to cause adverse effects such as stomach and intestinal bleeding ulcers, reduced kidney function, and increased blood pressure and risk of heart attack. Curcumin works just as effectively at reducing inflammation - without these potentially life-threatening adverse effects.
In patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the body’s own immune cells attack and destroy the lining of the joints (synovium). This chronic, painful and debilitating condition is characterized by inflammation throughout the body, warm and swollen joints, and even joint destruction. Recently, researchers looked at the effects of 500 mg of a specialized, highly absorbable curcumin extract taken twice daily compared with 50 mg of the prescription drug diclofenac sodium (one brand name is Voltaren®) twice daily, or a combination of the two in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The group receiving the highly absorbable curcumin had the greatest reduction in joint pain and swelling, with no adverse effects. In contrast, 14% of the participants in the drug group stopped the test because of the adverse effects they experienced.5
Curcumin protects the skin by quenching free radicals and reducing inflammation, and improves collagen deposition and vascular density in wounds, helping damaged tissue heal faster. Collagen is the foundation upon which healthy skin is built; vascular density is what ensures adequate blood flow to carry in the nutrients needed for repair of damaged tissue.6 Many people who experience problems with slow healing of wounds also have diabetes. Diabetes interferes with wound healing because it causes reduced blood flow (nutrients needed for tissue repair are carried in the bloodstream). High blood sugar also interferes with the ability of the body to clear away damaged cells and build new skin cells. In an experimental model of diabetes, both oral and topical curcumin were able to speed wound repair and healing.7 Radiation treatment for cancer can also cause significant damage to skin and delay healing. Pretreatment with curcumin has been shown in multiple studies to speed skin repair and healing.8 And finally, curcumin has shown promise at reducing inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, as well as skin cancer.6
Our bodies have a natural ability to fight cancer through the activity of tumor suppressing genes. However, aging and environmental factors can turn off or silence these genes, allowing the cancer to grow and spread unchecked. Researchers have now found that one of the ways curcumin fights cancer is by re-awakening these “sleeping genes,” turning them back on to stop cancer. This branch of science is known as epigenetics, and it may hold the answer to treating many types of cancer.9
Curcumin has been shown to stop cancer initiation, promotion and progression, meaning that it stops the changes that cause normal cells to become cancerous, stops the replication of cancerous cells (tumor formation), and stops cancerous cells from migrating to other parts of the body (known as metastasis). Published studies on curcumin’s anticancer activity (so far) have found that it can suppress breast, prostate, liver, skin, colon and lung cancer.10,11
Curcumin has also been shown to increase the activity of cancer drugs and to decrease drug resistance in cancer cells (meaning it helps cancer drugs kill tumors more efficiently). Additionally, it protects normal cells from the toxic effects of chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments.12
Taking curcumin in combination with chemotherapy drugs may mean less of the toxic drugs are required, but the results will be better, with significantly reduced side effects. However, this is very early research and more studies need to be done.
Researchers believe that curcumin works similarly against all types of cancer, so no matter what kind of cancer you may have, curcumin can be helpful.
In an experimental model of heart disease, curcumin was compared to the cholesterol-lowering drug lovastatin. The researchers found that curcumin protected against the effects of a high cholesterol diet just as effectively as lovastatin, preventing the inflammatory changes that lead to plaque buildup (and eventually, a heart attack), reducing triglycerides and increasing protective HDL cholesterol levels.13 In fact, volunteers receiving
500 mg of curcumin daily in a small clinical trial experienced a 29% increase in HDL levels.14 Just a 1% increase in this “good” form of cholesterol can reduce your risk of heart disease by 2-3%, so this finding is very important. Curcumin has also been found to lower serum triglycerides by 27%. Triglycerides are an undesirable form of fat that circulates in the bloodstream. Although much attention has been focused on cholesterol levels in connection with risk of heart disease, new research is finding that reducing triglyceride levels is likely more important than controlling cholesterol levels. In fact, one recent scientific paper noted that high triglyceride levels nearly tripled the risk of a heart attack.15 Therefore, the ability of curcumin to reduce triglyceride levels is crucial in reducing your risk of heart disease.
While diabetes is a disorder of blood sugar metabolism, inflammation plays a very strong role in its development and progression. In fact, some researchers now believe that chronic, low-level inflammation, especially when associated with obesity, is actually the cause of insulin resistance leading to Type 2 diabetes. In an experimental model of diabetes, 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.16 Other studies looking at the effects of curcumin in models of diabetes have found similar results: improved insulin response and reduced blood glucose levels.17,18 Additionally, 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 (neuropathy), and heart disease.19-22
The cause of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is not entirely known. However, certain characteristic changes are found in the brains of people with this condition - accumulated clusters of a protein called beta-amyloid, and clumps of dead and dying nerve and brain cells. These clusters and clumps, called plaques and tangles, are believed to interfere with the proper transmission of messages between brain cells and the death of the cells themselves. Inflammation is also believed to be involved, causing the accumulation of plaques and tangles to have even more damaging effects. Because of the known anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin, researchers are now looking at its effects in treating AD. What they have discovered is astonishing. Not only does curcumin protect brain cells from damaging inflammation, in experimental models of Alzheimer’s disease, curcumin was able to reduce beta-amyloid levels and shrink the size of accumulated plaques by over 30%!23 In fact, curcumin is more effective in inhibiting formation of beta- amyloid protein fragments than many other drugs being tested as Alzheimer’s treatments. One of the most prestigious Alzheimer’s research institutes in the world, the McCusker Alzheimer’s Research Foundation (supporting research at Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia) is focused on learning more about the benefits of curcumin for treating AD. Their study is using a specialized, highly absorbable form of curcumin, and administering it to patients with mild to moderate dementia. They hope to learn more about how curcumin can be used as an effective treatment of AD.24
Depression is a debilitating and difficult to treat disease. Approximately 30% of patients who take prescription drugs to relieve their depression experience no benefits, and the remaining 70% will have only partial improvement. Additionally, the side effects can be significant, including nausea, weight gain, dizziness, dry mouth, blurred vision, insomnia and more. Because curcumin has been shown to be effective at treating other brain disorders, it has been theorized that it may also be helpful in relieving depression. First, inflammation is known to play a major role in the development of depression. Therefore, it seems logical that the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin may be helpful. Second, curcumin is also able to modulate the levels of brain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers – serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine) which influence mood, behavior, appetite, emotions and even dreaming and memory. In experimental models of depression, curcumin has been shown to increase levels of the “feel good” neurotransmitter, serotonin, as well as relieve other symptoms of depression.25,26
In a published study comparing a special, highly absorbable curcumin to two prescription drugs, fluoxetine (Prozac®) and imipramine (Tofranil®), an experimental model found the highly absorbable curcumin to be just as effective as the two drugs – but without the adverse side effects.27 Researchers are now conducting human trials to compare the anti-depressant effects of curcumin with prescription drugs such as fluoxetine (one branded product is known as Prozac®).28
Chronic intestinal inflammation is associated with several commonly experienced diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and Crohn’s disease. Bloating, frequent diarrhea or constipation, gas, abdominal pain, even heartburn and acid reflux, can all be signs that unchecked inflammation is affecting the proper function of your digestive system. A study including over 200 people with IBS found that use of a standardized extract of curcumin was associated with up to a 25% reduction in abdominal pain, and 2/3 of participants reported an improvement in overall symptoms.29 In a small pilot study of patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative proctitis (a type of IBD) who received curcumin along with the standard anti-inflammatory drugs (including steroids), many of the patients were able to reduce or stop the medications, and inflammation markers decreased to within normal limits.30 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.31
Curcumin has shown promise in treating many other diseases and conditions, including obesity, kidney and liver disease, eye disorders, lung conditions, allergies, pancreatitis, and more.33,34
Curcumin may also be able to protect against weight gain and body fat accumulation. In a study of animals fed a high fat diet, curcumin supplementation prevented the increase of adipose (fat) tissue as well as preventing fat deposits in the liver.34
Curcumin is extremely safe. In fact, no toxicity issues have been reported for the compound, even when used in dosages as high as 10 grams or more daily.3,5,36 While there is much research to be done, enhanced forms of curcumin may also provide even further benefits, making curcumin therapy a very realistic option for almost any condition.
You can get results that don’t come with potentially dangerous side effects. Curcumin is the most powerful natural medicine available. If you have a specific health concern – no matter what it may be – check the research and talk to your healthcare practitioner. The chances are very good that curcumin can help.