The herb turmeric has been used for nearly 4000 years in India and throughout the world. It is a popular spice due to its nutritional value, flavor, and vibrant yellow color. Thousands of studies have illuminated the incredible and multifaceted benefits of this ancient plant. Most research has focused on curcumin, the primary active constituent of turmeric.
Curcumin is an exceptionally powerful anti-inflammatory agent. It can inhibit numerous enzymes linked to the promotion of inflammation, including cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), lipooxygenase (LOX), and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS). By working through multiple pathways, curcumin may potentially treat diseases like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and certain types of cancer.
Like many compounds that exhibit anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin is an antioxidant. A 2005 study from a UK medical school described unique mechanisms of curcumin’s action. In addition to directly scavenging two types of oxidants, it increased levels of glutathione, a natural antioxidant produced in the human liver. Therefore, curcumin exerts both direct and indirect antioxidant activity. Along with the ability to maintain calcium homeostasis, these actions contribute to curcumin’s protective effects on the cardiovascular system.
Perhaps most exciting is the anticancer potential of curcumin. A review article titled, “Curcumin and Cancer Cells: How Many Ways Can Curry Kill Tumor Cells Selectively?” explored over two dozen mechanisms of anticancer action. Not surprisingly, curcumin demonstrated antiproliferative and cell-killing effects against “almost all types of tumor cells.”
Several studies have indicated the value of using turmeric or curcumin alongside chemotherapy. A July 2015 study in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that turmeric prevented liver damage in mice resulting from administration of the chemotherapeutic drug methotrexate. Another recent study pointed to curcumin’s ability to ameliorate neuropathy resulting from cisplatin administration. In addition to stopping chemotherapy side effects, curcumin has been shown to work synergistically with chemotherapy to reduce proliferation and increase programmed cell death of cancer cells.
The fundamental healing abilities of curcumincur extend to psychological conditions as well. A study in Brain Research provided evidence that the compound may act as a stress alleviator and antidepressant. Indeed, a randomized controlled trial in 2014 reported benefits in patients with major depressive disorder.
Using a turmeric extract standardized to contain high levels of curcumin is an easy way to take advantage of the herb. To maximize benefits, the extract should also contain some black pepper. Pepper contains piperine, which substantially inhibits the liver’s metabolism of curcumin. Without it, the value of turmeric alone is almost worthless. A study from St. John’s Medical College in India found that after humans ingested two grams of curcumin, their blood serum levels of the compound were very low or undetectable. By combining 20 milligrams of piperine with the curcumin, bioavailability was increased by 2000%.
Consuming whole turmeric root is also an effective means of getting curcumin into your system. As long as it is mixed with at least a small amount of black pepper, it will be effective. Many types of curry powder contain turmeric and black pepper as primary ingredients. Of course, due to the ability of black pepper to inhibit liver enzymes, it is best taken separately from cannabis extracts or pharmaceutical medications.