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Diabetes and Obesity

Diabetes and obesity are the twin lifestyle epidemics of our time. They not only rob individuals of their health, but quite possibly of the ability to regain health through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors alone. However, emerging science shows that curcumin from turmeric (Curcuma longa) may be able to regulate blood sugar levels, stop the growth and proliferation of fat cells, and help re-establish healthy metabolism.

To say that there is an epidemic of obesity and diabetes in America is no longer a headline. It’s a daily reality. Obesity has increased 60% in the past 20 years, and statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that as of 2010, over 35% of American adults and over 16% of American children and adolescents were obese. Combining this number with Americans who qualify as overweight, but not yet classified as obese, and the number climbs to two-thirds of the population with unhealthy weight, and all of the health implications that follow, including elevated blood sugar.1-3

While obesity is a condition that is plainly seen, the damage done by elevated blood sugar levels – Type 2 diabetes – happens slowly over time. Unfortunately, Type 2 diabetes and elevated blood sugar has become common as well. Approximately 35% of Americans age 20 or older have “prediabetes”. That number soars to 50% when you look at statistics for Americans age 65 or older, to a total of about 79 million people. And that’s not even counting those who have undiagnosed diabetes, which is estimated at 7 million possible cases.4

Junk Foods Rewire the Brain

Those suffering from obesity and diabetes have elevated blood glucose levels, greater insulin resistance, and greater risk of weight gain due to sugars being stored as fat, and cannot metabolize food properly. This means that at a certain point, even those who need to be treated for diabetes and obesity (also known as “diabesity”) can no longer effectively control their weight and blood sugar levels. Their bodies simply work against them.

That’s because over time, the brain stops interpreting the signal of satiety and simply revs up the desire to eat even more. Part of the problem, of course, is the popularity of high-fat foods. But in many cases, the body essentially takes over, and blood sugar regulation, metabolism, and fat growth are beyond the ability of willpower alone.

Curcumin Can Stop the Cycle of Diabetes and Weight Gain

However, curcumin from turmeric (Curcuma longa) may be the best possibility yet to stop this cycle. Research shows that curcumin can help “reset” the body’s ability to burn sugars, stop fat production and metabolize food.

It’s important to remember that fat tissue isn’t just an unsightly energy storage problem. It is essentially an endocrine organ in its own right. It releases cytokines in response to stressors, including immune threats and inflammation.

In fact, inflammation is one of the key causal factors that obesity and diabetes both share. High fat diets can boost levels of inflammatory markers in the body. In fact, it is typical for obesity to be associated with an increase of pro-inflammatory TNF-alpha and activation of NF-kB in adipose, muscle, and liver tissue. Because curcumin reduces levels of these inflammatory markers, it stops them from causing insulin resistance, and makes it less likely that circulating blood sugar will be stored as fat.

Curcumin Stops Fat Cell Growth

Adipocyte growth (fat cell differentiation) and expansion occurs the same way as tumor cell growth -- through angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels that “feed” the fat cells. Aside from inhibiting calorie intake, it is important to stop the expansion of fat cells, so that they can’t propel further blood sugar imbalance and weight gain. Fortunately, curcumin can help.

Research shows that even on a high calorie diet, curcumin was still able to interrupt the process of fat growth. In a laboratory 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.5

In this study, it only took between 3 to 9 weeks before the benefits of curcumin supplementation became apparent. This research showed that curcumin significantly inhibits two of the major genetic factors in fat cell creation -- PPAR-gamma and C/EBP-alpha. So, at a cellular level, curcumin stops the growth of fat – even when food intake wasn’t reduced.5

The curcumin group in this particular study also showed lower concentrations of serum cholesterol and triglycerides than the high-fat diet group without curcumin. Plus – and this is just as important as the fat-inhibition effects – the curcumin group had lower concentrations of serum glucose. Additionally, the curcumin didn’t interfere with the normal development of healthy cells.5

12-Week Laboratory Study: High Fat Diet vs. High Fat Diet + Curcumin


High Fat Diet

High-Fat Diet + Curcumin

Body Weight (grams)



Total Body Fat (grams)



Liver Weight (grams)



Glucose (mmol/L)



Cholesterol (mmol/L)



Triglycerides (mmol/L)



(Values in table reflect averages. Source: Ejaz A, Wu D, Kwan P, Meydani M. J Nutr. 2009 May;139(5):919-25.)


Curcumin Helps Control Blood Sugar Levels

In another study, curcumin decreased glucose levels in less than 2 weeks of treatment, lowering HbA1c levels in diabetic mice without affecting HbA1c levels in lean mice.6 HbA1c tests show the average levels of blood sugar and are a way to gauge the control of diabetes.

Here again, there were significant weight differences between curcumin-fed lean groups, diabetic/obese curcumin-fed groups, and diabetic/obese control groups as well. Curcumin was associated with less body fat and more lean mass in both the curcumin groups, and the curcumin-fed groups actually lost weight 2 weeks into the study.6

One potential explanation for this is that curcumin moderates the inflammation that would normally be caused by a high-fat diet, inhibiting NF-kB expression and JNK signaling. This, in turn, prevents the creation of fat cells that would normally be one of the results of systemic inflammation.5 Plus, curcumin has been shown to inhibit macrophage infiltration into adipocytes, which ramps up fat cell production as well.6

Curcumin Maintains Lean Muscle Mass

Another factor that supports curcumin as a treatment and preventive agent for diabesity is that curcumin appears to increase levels of adiponectin. This protein normally circulates throughout the body, but is present in lower amounts in obese versus lean body types. Aside from keeping lean bodies lean, adiponectin is also important for regulating blood sugar levels, insulin metabolism, cholesterol levels, and inhibiting NF-kB activation and other inflammatory markers. In fact, boosting levels of adiponectin is considered a potential treatment for type 2 diabetes on its own.7-11

But even though adiponectin acts as an anti-inflammatory, high inflammation still overwhelms levels of this natural compound in the body. Because of this, any protective effect it would have against weight gain or insulin resistance is virtually eliminated. This is another reason why curcumin shows so much promise – it helps the body protect itself and appears to work synergistically with existing natural chemistry.4,12

Curcumin Reduces Insulin Resistance

In another study, of 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.13 

Additional research has shown similar results as well -- improved insulin response and reduced blood glucose levels.14,15 Plus, 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.16,17

Some researchers feel that the amount of curcumin needed to show a positive effect is simply too much to be practical. However, with enhanced curcumin extracts on the market, there’s room for more research regarding curcumin and stopping diabesity.  In fact, some research has seen results from smaller dosage levels, and has noted the potential for further studies and human benefits.

Curcumin directly affects these factors that create the twin epidemics of diabetes and obesity. It stops inflammatory markers that lead to insulin resistance and create fat cells, and it slows fat production and  encourages lean muscle mass as well. These reasons provide hope that curcumin will provide natural solution to one of the most destructive health issues of our time.


  1. Overweight and Obesity.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: . Accessed: April 10, 2013.
  2. “Obesity and Overweight.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: Accessed: April 10, 2013.
  3. “Overweight and Obesity Statistics,” Weight Control Information Network, from the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Available at:
    Accessed: May 7, 2013.
  4. 2011 Diabetes Fact Sheet.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at:
  5. Ejaz A, Wu D, Kwan P, Meydani M. Curcumin inhibits adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 adipocytes and angiogenesis and obesity in C57/BL mice. J Nutr. 2009 May;139(5):919-25.
  6. Weisberg SP, Leibel R, Tortoriello DV. Dietary curcumin significantly improves obesity-associated inflammation and diabetes in mouse models of diabesity. Endocrinology. 2008 Jul;149(7):3549-58.
  7. Ahn J, Lee H, Kim S, Ha T. Curcumin-induced suppression of adipogenic differentiation is accompanied by activation of Wnt/beta-catenin signaling. Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2010 Jun;298(6):C1510-6.
  8. Lihn AS, Pedersen SB, Richelsen B. Adiponectin: action, regulation and association to insulin sensitivity. Obes Rev. 2005 Feb;6(1):13-21.
  9. Ajuwon KM, Spurlock ME. Adiponectin inhibits LPS-induced NF-kappaB activation and IL-6 production and increases PPARgamma2 expression in adipocytes. Am. J. Physiol. Regul. Integr. Comp. Physiol. 2005;288:R1220–R1225.
  10. Ouchi N, Kihara S, Arita Y, Okamoto Y, Maeda K, et al. Adiponectin, an adipocyte-derived plasma protein, inhibits endothelial NF-kappaB signaling through a cAMP-dependent pathway. Circulation. 2000;102:1296–1301
  11. Aggarwal BB. Targeting inflammation-induced obesity and metabolic diseases by curcumin and other nutraceuticals. Annu Rev Nutr. 2010 Aug 21;30:173-99.
  12. Bradford PG. Curcumin and obesity. Biofactors. 2013 Jan-Feb;39(1):78-87. doi: 10.1002/biof.1074. Epub 2013 Jan 22.
  13. El-Moselhy MA, Taye A, Sharkawi SS, El-Sisi SF, Ahmed AF. The antihyperglycemic effect of curcumin in high fat diet fed rats. Role of TNF-α and free fatty acids. Food Chem Toxicol. 2011;49(5):1129-40.
  14. Na LX, Zhang YL, Li Y, et al. Curcumin improves insulin resistance in skeletal muscle of rats. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2011;21(7):526-33.
  15. Seo KI, Choi MS, Jung UJ, et al. Effect of curcumin supplementation on blood glucose, plasma insulin, and glucose homeostasis related enzyme activities in diabetic db/db mice. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008; 52(9):995-1004.
  16. Gupta SK, Kumar B, Nag TC, et al. Curcumin prevents experimental diabetic retinopathy in rats through its hypoglycemic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory mechanisms. J Ocul Pharmacol Ther. 2011;27(2):123-30.
  17. Peeyush KT, Gireesh G, Jobin M, Paulose CS. Neuroprotective role of curcumin in the cerebellum of streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Life Sci. 2009;85(19-20):704-10.

 2011 Diabetes Fact Sheet.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at:

“Overweight and Obesity.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: . Accessed: April 10, 2013.

“Obesity and Overweight.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: Accessed: April 10, 2013.

“Overweight and Obesity Statistics,” Weight Control Information Network, from the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Available at: Accessed: May 7, 2013.


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