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Why turmeric can curry favour with your healthspan

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The curcumin in turmeric has proven health benefits, from anti-inflammatory to cognitive; reaching for the spice jar isn’t enough, but supplements could be.

Turmeric is known for its culinary uses, and you probably have a jar of the deep orange-yellow powder sitting in your spice rack. But did you know that turmeric’s principal constituent, a bright yellow chemical called curcumin, has been has been approved as a food additive by the World Health Organization, European Parliament and the FDA and is now found in several supplements?

Curcumin has has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant, but you’d have to eat a lot of curry to access all the health benefits curcumin can provide, as the curcumin content of turmeric is pretty low – just 3% by weight, approximately.

This means that a curcumin supplement, or a longevity supplement that contains curcumin, could be a way to ensure you get the full health benefits of this potent chemical.

raw turmeric
Raw turmeric

Getting enough curcumin

Like all good stories, however, there’s a twist in the tale: curcumin exhibits what scientists call exhibit very poor bioavailability. Bioavailability means the extent to which a substance becomes completely available to its intended biological destination. Studies of curcumin have demonstrated that it often has low, and sometimes undetectable, concentrations in blood and tissue.

Researchers think that this poor bioavailability could be due to curcumin’s poor absorption and rapid breakdown and elimination by the body, and its chemical instability. Help comes in the form of piperine, a natural substance found in black pepper; this can enhance the absorption of curcumin by 2,000% and supplements that contain curcumin often also contain piperine for this reason.

Curcumin is thought to have myriad health benefits, yet in our recent supplements survey, only the >74 group listed curcumins in their top three supplements. Supplements on the market that contain curcumin include: JUVICELL, MitoQ, Quicksilver Scientific and Preservage.

Turmeric flower
The turmeric flower

Curcumin healthspan benefits

  • Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory; as well as being beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis, it could help with inflammaging, the chronic, lower level inflammation that characterises aging. “Clinical trials indicate curcumin may have potential as a therapeutic agent in diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, arthritis, and chronic anterior uveitis, as well as certain types of cancer [1].”
  • Inflammation also plays a role in heart disease, the world’s biggest cause of death. As well as reducing inflammation, there is evidence that curcumin improves the function of the endothelium, which is the lining of the blood vessels, possibly even being as effective as exercise or the frequently-prescribed Atorvastatin.
  • Curcumin can reduces oxidative damage from free radicals; not only is curcumin an antioxidant itself, but it promotes the function of the body’s own antioxidant enzymes. Oxidative damage plays a role in various cancers, atherosclerosis, diabetes, stroke and aging itself.
  • Curcumin can boost levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), or abrineurin, a protein which plays a key in the survival and growth of brain neurons. It also serves as a neurotransmitter modulator and helps to maintain neuronal plasticity, which is essential for both learning and memory. This means that as well as improving memory, and maybe even delaying memory loss, curcumin-boosted BDNF could be effective in delaying or even halting age-related neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Both inflammation and oxidative stress are contributory factors for the debilitating neurological disease, Alzheimer’s. Curcumin can reduce both of these, but it can also cross the blood-brain barrier (which is very tricky for molecules to navigate), and once in the brain, is able to assist in the clearance of amyloid plaques, sticky, tangled clumps that form in Alzheimer’s disease, interfering with normal brain function.

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19594223/

Image credits: tina-witherspoon / unsplash, andy hyd / unsplash, Mouse23 / Pixabay

 

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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Eleanor Garth
Deputy Editor Now a science and medicine journalist, Eleanor worked as a consultant for university spin-out companies and provided research support at Imperial College London and various London hospitals in a former life.
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