Curry in a Hurry – The Health Benefits of Turmericby Sajid Surve, DO | March 28, 2009
Over the past few decades, the emergence of India as an international superpower has been slow and steady. In the United States, this has translated into a simmering public awareness of Indian culture and an ever-increasing importation of Indian products, whether it be Bollywood movies or Indian cuisine. One of the main staples of Indian cooking, turmeric, has been getting a lot of press recently not for its flavoring prowess, but rather for its health benefits. Presented here is some of the current research regarding this amazing yellow spice.
The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin. Antioxidant and free radical scavenging capacity of curcumin is on par with vitamin C and E, and several animal studies have demonstrated the ability to prevent oxidative damage to heart cells, blood vessels, kidney cells, liver cells, and lipid degradation. Rats pre-treated with curcumin fared better when strokes and heart attacks were induced.
An oil produced from the turmeric plant has been studied as an antimicrobial, and was shown to be effective in killing E. coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staph aureus, and several Bacillus strains. Other culture studies have also suggested that turmeric may work as an antifungal and antiviral agent.
Turmeric has long been considered a home remedy in India for surface wounds. Scientific research into the subject has surprisingly elucidated this practice. Wounds treated with curcumin had faster healing times, showed increased collagen synthesis, higher levels of transformation growth factor, and increased neovascularization. Studies looking at the ingestion of turmeric for treatment of gastric ulcers also showed preserved epithelial cells and decreased ulcer recovery times. Some have suggested that curcumin may be a helpful pre-treatment for patients who require exposure to radiation for treatment of cancers, to prevent skin damage.
Curcumin has been shown to induce apoptosis of certain cancer cell lines in vitro including prostate and breast cancer. Animal models have demonstrated a protective effect of curcumin for a wide range of cancers including colorectal, stomach, skin, liver, oral, and breast. Pro-inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor alpha and interleukin 1-beta have also been shown to become downregulated in the presence of curcumin.
The process of angiogenesis is responsible for the creation of new blood vessels. Under physiologic conditions, this process is necessary for growth, repair, and embryonic development. When left unchecked, angiogenesis can go awry causing conditions like diabetic retinopathy, rheumatoid arthritis, hemangiomas, and also may be responsible for the metastasis of tumors to distant sites. Curcumin seems to help regulate the process of angiogenesis, and prevent damage in animal models. This mechanism is not clearly understood yet, but further studies are currently underway.
As is the case with all dietary intake, moderation is the key. While no recommended daily allowance has been established for turmeric intake, the general consensus is that beneficial properties are conferred at doses ranging from 1-2 grams per day. Exceeding that range could lead to complications and side effects. Also, how curcumin interacts with exogenous substances like prescription medications is not clear, so caution is advised for higher intake. Regardless, the new found surge of popularity for Indian cuisine and culture has introduced Western civilization to turmeric, and the spice has certainly earned its public scrutiny as a possible superfood.
Mann, C., Neal, C., Garcea, G., Manson, M., Dennison, A., & Berry, D. (2009). Phytochemicals as potential chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic agents in hepatocarcinogenesis European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 18 (1), 13-25 DOI: 10.1097/CEJ.0b013e3282f0c090
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