Herbs are usually viewed as natural solutions for specific problems, but curcumin-considered the key therapeutic component of turmeric, the yellow curry spice-should be an everyday staple alongside your multivitamin, says Gaetano Morello, ND.
A naturopathic doctor who practices in Vancouver, Morello is one of eight specialists at a leading Canadian government-funded health center that treats complex chronic diseases such as fibromyalgia and Lyme disease. "The majority of today's common health conditions have an inflammatory base," he says. And because curcumin has unique anti-inflammatory effects, it can be considered a front-line defense against any number of health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, weight gain, cancer, Alzheimer's, energy problems, digestive and skin conditions, premature aging, and hormonal imbalances.
Turning Off Inflammation
"Inflammatory compounds," says Morello, "are created by genes." But that doesn't mean your genes determine your health. The foods you eat-plus your body's ability to get rid of environmental toxins-tell genes whether to generate inflammation. Different nutrients found in plant foods and fish, as well as anti-inflammatory drugs, calm inflammation by reducing or blocking the substances that trigger it.
Curcumin is particularly effective, says Morello, because it has a broad impact, positively influencing all the ways in which harmful inflammation is generated. In addition, curcumin improves detoxification in the liver, thereby helping to balance hormones, including those that affect weight. Together, these mechanisms activate more of your genes' health-promoting abilities.
Curcumin is also a strong antioxidant. It helps dissolve harmful blood clots that can cause strokes and heart attacks. And, it may even improve digestion.
Curcumin has been used by humans medicinally for more than 4,000 years, but it wasn't until 1971 that researchers in India began to document the clinical evidence of its anti-inflammatory properties. Since then, scientists from around the world have tested the herb in numerous lab and animal studies, as well as in human trials. Altogether, the research shows that curcumin can help prevent or treat virtually any condition where inflammation plays a role.
Here are some recent highlights:
Osteoarthritis: Two studies that followed a total of 150 osteoarthritis patients found that curcumin (in a proprietary form called Meriva) significantly reduced symptoms and improved the ability to walk within 3-8 months of daily supplementation. Using blood tests, one of these studies also showed a dramatic reduction in chronic inflammation.
Head and neck cancers: In a study of 21 patients, chewable curcumin tablets (formulated specifically for the study) reduced levels of cancer-promoting substances in saliva.
Heart failure: Among 16 patients suffering from heart failure, curcumin (in a proprietary form called Theracurmin) improved the heart's ability to pump blood.
Studies have also found that the Meriva form of curcumin reduced prostate enlargement and diabetic complications in small blood vessels and the eyes. In his practice, Morello has treated more than 800 patients with curcumin (Theracurmin) and has seen dramatic results-severe back pain relieved, for example, in a couple of hours.
Studies show that curcumin is not always absorbed well enough in the body to deliver its potential benefits. To solve the problem, companies have developed proprietary forms that are designed to be easier for the human body to use. The following proprietary forms have been tested for bioavailability and can be found in a variety of individual curcumin supplements, as well as in joint-health and other formulas:
- Curcumin C3 Complex
- Curcumin C3 Reduct (available soon)
Recommended daily amounts for each form vary, and are listed on product labels.
InflamMotion Joint Inflammation Complex blends Curcumin C3 Complex with other anti-inflammatory herbs including boswellia.
Curcumin-Rich Cur-cumin contains Theracurmin, a form of curcumin that increases absorption over 300 times.
Bio-Curcumin Phytosoe features Meriva, a patented form of curcumin that is complexed for optimal absorption with phosphatidylcholine.
Vera Tweed has been writing about nutrition, fitness, and healthy living since 1997. As a journalist, she specializes in covering research and expert knowledge that empowers people to lead better lives.