Multiple Studies Have Shown Curcumin's Heart and Brain Benefits.
Curcumin Is Not Produced By The Human Body; Supplementation Is Needed To Benefit From It.
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Turmeric Curcumin Overview
Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory nutrient found in turmeric; turmeric is a spice related to the common spice ginger. Curcumin has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years due to its wide range of health benefits. In more recent years, Curcumin has become the focus of multiple studies in an effort to understand and explain its numerous benefits.
Studies on Curcumin have found that it has the following properties:
Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Curcumin inhibits the activity of several inflammatory enzymes. Research has found that Curcumin reduces joint inflammation and the inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease.
Anti-Cancer Properties: While studies are still ongoing, preliminary studies have shown that Curcumin can reduce the risk of cancer by suppressing oncogenes as well as by inhibiting the metastasis, or spread, of cancerous cells. [Source 17]
Cardiac Benefits: Studies have shown that Curcumin can help maintain a healthy heart by lowering total cholesterol levels, as well as the amount of harmful, or LDL, cholesterol. [Source 18]
Neuroprotective Benefits: Perhaps the most exciting of Curcumin’s benefits are those seen in the brain! In part due to its anti-inflammatory properties and in part due to other traits we will discuss below, Curcumin is now a focal point of studies examining its use to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Curcumin’s Role in Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Turmeric, which contains a significant amount of Curcumin, has long been a staple ingredient in many asian foods. Researchers have theorized that the significantly lower rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s in asian cultures could be attributed to the higher consumption of Curcumin. In fact, studies examining the consumption of Curcumin showed that individuals whom consumed more Curcumin performed better on mental tests later in life. [Source 11]
In more recent years, researchers and scientists have examined Curcumin more closely to understand and explain its neuroprotective properties. Researchers attribute Curcumin’s effectiveness at preventing mental decline to three major functions.
Beta Amyloid Plaque Removal
Beta Amyloid plaques are believed to be the main cause of the brain damage associated with Alzheimer’s. Studies have found that curcumin both removes these plaques and prevents their formation. Studies have found that Curcumin decreases the amount of beta-amyloid present in the brain by up to 40%.
We discuss the role of genetics in the formation of Beta Amyloid plaques on our Genetic Information for Alzheimer's Page.
Scientists attribute some of the damage seen in Alzheimer’s to chemicals called free radicals which have been shown to be harmful to the cells of the brain. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant that decreases the amount of free radicals in brain. Studies have specifically found that it decreases the amount of the types of free radicals[explanation] that damage neurons.
Another significant contributor to Alzheimer’s disease is the regular inflammation of nerve cells. This inflammation is believed to result in a larger number of amyloid plaques. Patients placed on anti-inflammatory drugs have shown a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s. However, many of these anti-inflammatory drugs are toxic to the kidneys and liver when taken over a prolonged time. Curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory characteristics and is safe to take for a prolonged period of time.
These three factors make for a powerful combined effect which many believe can preserve memory and cognition.
Safety & Side Effects
Turmeric is currently listed as “generally recognized as safe” by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
Human clinical trials with individuals taking 8000mg of Curcumin a day for three months found no toxicity attributable to Curcumin.
As Curcumin is metabolized by the liver, individuals with liver disease, heavy drinkers, and individuals taking prescription medications which are metabolized by the liver should consult a physician prior to regularly consuming Curcumin. Individuals taking blood thinning agents or NSAIDs should also consult their physician.
The most common side effect of Curcumin supplementation is an upset stomach.
Summary and Recommendation
While Curcumin has been used for hundreds of years as a folk medicine, studies have recently confirmed its multiple health benefits.
Turmeric Curcumin has been shown by studies to benefit cardiac health as well as reduce the risk of Alzheimer's Disease and dementia.
Due to the significant benefits and minor side effects, The Alzheimer’s Organization recommends individuals seriously consider a Curcumin supplement. The supplement should also contain a black pepper extract in order to increase the efficiency of the Curcumin.
The Alzheimer's Organization Turmeric Curcumin supplement can be found here.