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Health research news on turmeric and curcumin

Book by Anne Hart

What substance is in turmeric and curry powder that so many doctors are touting as a possible memory enhancer focused on perhaps helping to prevent Alzheimer's disease? It's curcumin. But is raw turmeric root (the plant itself) rather than the powder more effective, and in what dose is it ideal and not excess? Those are questions for which consumers want answers and the information where to find those answers. you may wish to check out the website, How to Grow Turmeric | Backyard Gardening Blog.


Should you take a dash of black pepper and a dash of turmeric in a beverage or in food before going on a stroll or doing any type of exercise for the energy benefits? Black pepper helps your body absorb turmeric. See the article, 10 of the Most Powerful Herbs & Spices | food4mythoughts.com. And check out Dr. Weil's article, Curcumin or Turmeric?


Who's studying cucurmin, an ingredient from turmeric, a spice to see what health benefits it may have, especially in relation to see whether cucurmin and/or turmeric has any type of prevention ability on Alzheimer's or other dementia types? There have been studies at UCLA. You may wish to check out the UC Davis article on cucurmin, found in turmeric, RSC Article Template (Version 3.0)[PDF].


You can buy turmeric in many supermarkets, natural food stores, and ethnic groceries including in larger packages. Also, you can buy turmeric at any of the ethnic Indian grocery stores in various areas of the USA. Also, you can order cucurmin, the ingredient in turmeric being studied, from most health food stores or online for example, from the Life Extension Foundation. Check out the October, 2007 article by Life Extension Foundation's magazine titled, Novel Turmeric Compound Delivers Much More Curcumin to the Blood.


The University of California, Davis studies the effects turmeric or the ingredient found in turmeric, curcumin, has on protecting the brain from too much damage by accumulating amounts of copper and iron, which may or may not be linked to developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Check out the site, UC Davis Alzheimer's Disease Center.


Can turmeric help prevent Alzheimer's disease by cutting amyloid plaque in your brain?

On the Dr. Oz show, a guest physician explained how cucurmin, an ingredient in turmeric and curry might work to reverse amyloid plaque in the brain which may lead to Alzheimer's. Also see the article, Turmeric and Curcumin Show Major Health Benefits .

The main point is that turmeric and curry powder were suggested by Dr. Oz and his physician guest in a rerun shown in Sacramento Dish Network TV channel 58 on how to lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease as one more spice in the fight to prevent Alzheimers.


Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, a spice in the ginger family used in cooking and for medical purposes. The Dr. Oz show today also revealed that some students on a curry/turmeric ethnic diet similar to what's eaten as a staple in India performed better on memory tests than students not eating a diet emphasizing curry and turmeric-spiced foods.


Turmeric is used by doctors and healthcare providers in Asian cultures. Curcumin is an ingredient in turmeric that sometimes is taken as a supplment because it's thought to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties. In India, for example, you can buy band-aids coated with turmeric, where it also is used as a topical disinfectant as well as a spice put in food.


If you take other foods, drugs, or supplements that are considered blood thinners (like fish oil) or a daily aspirin, be aware that curcumin can raise the risk of uncontrolled bleeding if taken with aspirin, blood thinners (heparin), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, and anti-platelet medicines.


According to a Tufts University, Boston, MA study funded by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture and released to the media on May 18, 2009, curcumin, the major polyphenol found in turmeric, appears to reduce weight gain in mice and suppress the growth of fat tissue in mice and cell models. Can it also stop humans from gaining weight?


Researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University (USDA HNRCA) studied mice fed high fat diets supplemented with curcumin and cell cultures incubated with curcumin. Asma Ejaz, a graduate student who worked on this project also received a scholarship grant from the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. You can read the study, Ejaz A, Wu, D, Kwan P, and Meydani M. Journal of Nutrition. May 2009; 139 (5): 1042-1048. "Curcumin Inhibits Adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 Adipocytes and Angiogenesis and Obesity in C57/BL Mice. 919-925."


Turmeric and an ingredient in it, curcumin has been studied in the past in relation to preventing Alzheimer's disease. Now this new study focuses on preventing weight gain. According to a May 18th 2009 Tufts University press release, "Weight gain is the result of the growth and expansion of fat tissue, which cannot happen unless new blood vessels form, a process known as angiogenesis." said senior author Mohsen Meydani, DVM, PhD, director of the Vascular Biology Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA. "Based on our data, curcumin appears to suppress angiogenic activity in the fat tissue of mice fed high fat diets." Meydani continued, "It is important to note, we don't know whether these results can be replicated in humans because, to our knowledge, no studies have been done."


Turmeric is known for providing flavor to curry. One of its components is curcumin, a type of phytochemical known as a polyphenol. Research findings suggest that phytochemicals, which are the chemicals found in plants, appear to help prevent disease. As the bioactive component of turmeric, curcumin is readily absorbed for use by the body.


Meydani and colleagues studied mice fed high fat diets for 12 weeks. The high fat diet of one group was supplemented with 500 mg of curcumin/ kg diet; the other group consumed no curcumin. Both groups ate the same amount of food, indicating curcumin did not affect appetite, but mice fed the curcumin supplemented diet did not gain as much weight as mice that were not fed curcumin.


"Curcumin appeared to be responsible for total lower body fat in the group that received supplementation," said Meydani, who is also a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. "In those mice, we observed a suppression of microvessel density in fat tissue, a sign of less blood vessel growth and thus less expansion of fat. We also found lower blood cholesterol levels and fat in the liver of those mice. In general, angiogenesis and an accumulation of lipids in fat cells contribute to fat tissue growth."


Writing in the May 2009 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, the authors note similar results in cell cultures. Additionally, curcumin appeared to interfere with expression of two genes, which contributed to angiogenesis progression in both cell and rodent models.

"Again, based on this data, we have no way of telling whether curcumin could prevent fat tissue growth in humans." Meydani said. "The mechanism or mechanisms by which curcumin appears to affect fat tissue must be investigated in a randomized, clinical trial involving humans."


Ejaz A, Wu, D, Kwan P, and Meydani M. Journal of Nutrition. May 2009; 139 (5): 1042-1048. "Curcumin Inhibits Adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 Adipocytes and Angiogenesis and Obesity in C57/BL Mice. 919-925."


Turmeric and Alzheimer's Prevention Research

What about turmeric or curcumin for preventing Alzheimer's if you're not able to fight the environmental pollution where you have to live? Curcumin is an ingredient naturally found in turmeric.


According to a different study, published in August 2009 in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, and reported in a Lee Swanson Research Update titled, "Vitamin D-Curcumin Combo Offers Brain Health Potential," A combination of vitamin D3 and curcumin, from turmeric, may boost the immune system and help it clear the protein plaques linked to Alzheimer's, notes the August 2009 Journal of Alzheimer's Disease study.


The Lee Swanson Research Update reported that the data, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, may lead to new approaches in preventing Alzheimer's by using vitamin D3 alone or in combination with natural or synthetic curcumin to boost the immune system in protecting the brain against beta-amyloid. Curcumin is found in and/or extracted from turmeric.


In the curcumin study, there's hope for prevention of Alzheimer's from turmeric and/or cucurmin, an extract from turmeric. "We hope that vitamin D3 and curcumin, both naturally occurring nutrients, may offer new preventive and treatment possibilities for Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Milan Fiala from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).


Monocyte cells, which transform into macrophages and in turn boost the immune system, were isolated from blood samples taken from nine Alzheimer's patients, one patient with mild cognitive impairment and three healthy control subjects.


The macrophages were then incubated with beta-amyloid, vitamin D3 and natural or synthetic curcumin. The naturally occurring curcumin was found to be poorly absorbed, making it less effective than the synthetic curcuminoids, said the researchers. "We think some of the novel synthetic compounds will get around the shortcomings of curcumin and improve the therapeutic efficacy," said John Cashman of the Human BioMolecular Research Institute.


The curcuminoids were found to enhance binding of beta-amyloid to macrophages, and that vitamin D could strongly stimulate the uptake and absorption of beta-amyloid in macrophages in most of the patients.


Previous research by the same scientists found that there are two types of Alzheimer's patients: Type I patients, who respond positively to curcuminoids, and Type II patients, who do not. This depends on the genes MGAT III and TLR-3 that are associated with the immune system's ability to better ingest beta-amyloid, the researchers said.

"Since vitamin D and curcumin work differently with the immune system, we may find that a combination of the two or each used alone may be more effective—depending on the individual patient," said Fiala.


The UCLA researchers stressed that the research is still in its early stages and that no doses of either compound can be recommended at this point. They noted that larger vitamin D and curcumin studies with more patients are planned. Read the study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease 17(3):703-717.


Is it true that research is beginning to show that an ingredient, a phytochemical, in turmeric called curcumin, actually reverses, slows, or even helps to prevent early stage Alzheimer's disease? Is the reported low rate of Alzheimers and some other dementia types in India due to the daily of addition of a small amount of turmeric and curry spices in the average diet?


On the other hand, At the International Alzheimer's Research Conference in Chicago, one topic that would have made a good debate might have been: could it be that the major drug companies that are actually doing Alzheimer's research in India or anywhere else are in competition with the businesses that sell spices to consumers?


For example, could it possibly be that the major drug manufacturers in India will investigate and then come to the conclusion that turmeric couldn't possibly be that good, that perhaps the element in turmeric, curcurmin isn't stopping Alzheimers. Because if the drug companies in any country admit openly that curcurmin, an ingredient in turmeric is doing any good to prevent Alzheimer's then maybe people won't be grabbing up the drugs.


The drug companies may laugh at the 'hype' about turmeric. They want to sell commercial drugs to make money. You have to follow the money to get information, or at least their point of view. And then look in the opposite corner and compare the preventive medicine's research with extracts and foods. Look at the results of investigations of both sides. Are the researchers from the major drug companies investigating turmeric or their own commercial drugs or both at the same time?


These are just a few questions to ponder as research continues in various countries. Do you believe the articles based on research in magazines such as Life Extension, or the marketing material from either side? Is the research validated? Double-blind? Who funded the research and why? Read the article, "Novel Turmeric Compound Delivers Much More Curcumin to the Blood," by Dale Kiefer, Life Extension magazine, October 2007.


Scientific researchers around the world are investigating applications for curcumin that include fighting cancer, arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and reversing the pathological processes underlying Alzheimer's disease, among other conditions. If turmeric is 'hype,' why are so many scientists researching its health benefits for so long?


Drug companies will say India or some other country has a lower reported incidence of Alzheimers. But the key word is 'reported.' Drug manufacturers have to make sure people buy their drugs in India or in any country where there's a lower 'reported' rate of Alzheimer's than in the USA or Europe.


Manufacturers of drugs and their scientists might say that doctors are resisting the decision to make a 'formal' diagnosis of Alzheimers just because in India it has a strong social stigma. That's the explanation you might get if you ask the commercial drug researchers....that physicians are willing to report less incidence because of social stigma.


As a Westerner, you don't know whether physicians in that country or any other nation will under report dementia because it's a social stigma. You might not know the customs. Who can you believe? Drug companies? Or Western researchers where there's no social stigma because of the higher rate of Alzheimer's in the West? Maybe it's the spice that helps and maybe not.


Maybe it's the meat that causes dementia or maybe not. The theories can drive you to confusion. So you follow your gut that says follow the money.

You'll have to turn to Western scientists specializing in prevention, scientists that don't work for major drug companies making drugs. What are those researchers studying? Regarding Alzheimer's, ask whether they are testing curcurmin, extracted from turmeric to find out whether or not it reverses Alzheimers in its early stages or even prevents Alzheimers or other dementia.


You're going to have to look at the incidence of Alzheimer's in countries where it's not a social stigma and where the people are largely vegetarians, even vegans taking supplements and using turmeric or any similar ingredient. On the other end of the investigation are physicians that are looking for evidence that Alzheimer's is caused by eating meat. Here are some examples in a variety of books. What do you think or theorize? Is there a food cure?


Curcumin is extracted from turmeric. Ask what's the reason why turmeric and curry powder containing turmeric are both anti-microbial and also a reverser of brain plaque? What does the research actually show now? Or is it all about marketing curcumin? What's the latest news?


To start your research in order to validate claims of turmeric, begin with the article, Alzheimer's Disease: Of Emerging Importance. Look at the article's Alzheimer's chart. Researchers started with looking at the reported low incidence of Alzheimer's in India.

The World Health Organization sampled curried vegetarian dishes. Was it the curry, the turmeric, or the fact that not as many people in in India dine on red meat? In the villages, the World Health Organization study found under one percent incidient of Alzheimers in people over age 65. What actually is in the turmeric that is the main ingredient of curry powder? Is it curcurmin alone or the whole food, turmeric, or turmeric mixed with other spices that all work together?


It's the phytochemical, curcumin. In the USA, curcumin is sold in capsules in health food stores and online and touted in Life Extension Magazine articles. But in India, where doctors report that the Alzheimer's rate of 4.4 times less than the rate in the burger-chomping USA, people in those Indian villages ate a small amount of turmeric in their curried foods. They didn't extract the curcumin. However, it's the curcumin that's being researched.


Your next step would be to go to the UCLA-Veteran's Affairs study. That research reiterated that curcumin has low toxicity and shows promise in "for the prevention of Alzheimer's." Curcumin also is being studied for its anti-cancer potential. Check out the article, Dr Oz: Curcumin Prevents Pancreatic Cancer & More Solutions.


Don't gulp all that turmeric yet. A teaspoon in a pot of stew is fine. But if you add a tablespoon to your food daily, soon your liver will start pouring out a lot more bile, maybe too much bile and stress for your liver. The whites of your eyes may start to turn yellow.

This would confuse your doctor who may think that maybe you have Wilson's disease (a copper build-up problem) that turns the whites of eyes yellow. Your dentist will tell you the roof of your mouth, your palate is yellow, and advise you to see a doctor and have your liver tested. So stick with a small amount of turmeric in your diet unless you are supervised medically and your liver bile tested.


Should you take curcumin capsules? That's up to you and your physician or naturopath based on how the curcumin is affecting your liver bile and any other aspect of your health. Sure, in India, turmeric, a main ingredient of which is curcumin, has been used for six thousand years.


It's an anti-inflammatory. In India today, turmeric is used as a paste to put on the skin to clear up chicken pox sores and other rashes. Turmeric is anti-microbial. Even hospital floors in India and Sri Lanka often are washed with turmeric and water to sanitize them.

In Ayurvedic medicine of India, turmeric is given to cure inflammation in the body. So your next source of research might be to look at more news of the UCLA-Veteran's Affairs study. Also see the article at News-Medical Net.


So who's going to start a clinical trial? And is the clinical trial, if started going to work with healthy volunteers again or target people over age 65 with a variety of issues?

Scientists really need to find out what safe doses of curcumin or turmeric are required. Turmeric is a spice people put in food and not a drug. So can a spice in food turn back or prevent Alzheimer's and any other dementias? Which ones? Your next stepping stone of validation is to look at the research published in the Dec 7, 2004 online edition of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.


Specifically, curcumin, found in turmeric inhibits the formation of protein fragments better than most drugs being tested at that time as Alzheimer's treatments. There's something about the curcumin, its low molecular weight and polar structure. The cucurmin crashes through your blood-brain barrier and binds to the beta amyloids that form the plaque of Alzheimer's. When the cucurmin binds to the beta amyloids, those amyloids aren't able to move on and out to worsen Alzheimer's.


Your next step might be to look at a 2001 study in the Journal of Neuroscience, 2001; 21:8370-8377. Then look at a similar study in Neurobiology of Aging, 2001; 22:993-1005. We know turmeric is an antioxidant and anti-inflammataory. And the inflamed brain of an Alzheimer's patient results in oxidation.


Want more validation? Look at the UCLA Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC) information on their clinical trials of curcumin.


What people want is a safe prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's and similar-type dementias using a spice or food rather than a drug with more serious side effects that only presently postpones rather than reverses. And in your own reading or research as a consumer, follow the money.


Who's funding these studies? The Siegel Life Foundation, Veterans Affairs, Alzheimer's Association, UCLA Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and private donors funded the that specific cucurmin research. Next, read the October, 2007 article by Life Extension Foundation's magazine titled, Novel Turmeric Compound Delivers Much More Curcumin to the Blood.


Other noteworthy resources nutritionists may consider telling consumers about include the books, Dying for a Hamburger: Modern Meat Processing and the Epidemic of Alzheimer's Disease by MD Murray Waldman and Marjorie Lamb (Hardcover - Jun 30, 2005) or Brain Trust: The Hidden Connection Between Mad Cow and Misdiagnosed Alzheimer's Disease by Colm A. Kelleher (Hardcover - Oct 19, 2004). Also see: Food for Thought: The Debate over Eating Meat (Contemporary Issues (Prometheus)) by Steve F. Sapontzis (Paperback - May 2004).