Thursday, November 15, 2007

The health benefits of turmeric extract (curcumin)

Researchers have long been aware of the health benefits of the curry spice turmeric, which is the source of curcumin (or turmeric extract). In fact, in India where turmeric is used daily Alzheimer's disease is nearly absent in a country (per the population size). Curcumin is the same thing as turmeric extract.

It is a powerful antioxidant and it has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is one of the most destructive processes that damage our cells and organs, leading to disease and aging.

Researchers have long studied the turmeric extract's application in fighting cancer, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and reversing the process underlying Alzheimer's disease.
One of the most important activities in the human body is turmeric extract's ability to inhibit chronic inflammation (by inhibiting activation of transcription factor, nuclear factor-kappa B, NF-kB). What's the big deal? Well, NF-kB activation has been implicated in ALL stages of the development and propagation of cancer; and switching off the NF-kB genes, which turmeric extract seems to do has been a huge subject of intense research.

The National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. has funded numerous studies on turmeric extract (curcumin) because of the diverse benefits of this antioxidant spice. It affects virtually every organ of the body. The applications include the treatment of cystic fibrosis (the most common genetic disorder in Caucasians), autoimmune diseases, such as sceleroderma, the prevention and treatment of cancer, the prevention and treatment of heart disease, reverse the damage associated with high blood sugar (diabetes), the prevention and treatment of both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, and multiple sclerosis. It may help prevent cataracts; it shows promise as a treatment for skin disorders such as psoriasis; and it helps in the treatment of wounds.

Among other benefits, turmeric extract has antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activities. This is not said lightly, and should not be overlooked as a minor benefit, particularly in wound healing.

Of all the benefits of curcumin or turmeric extract, it is the prevention and treatment of cancer that has most scientists in awe. One investigator wrote:

"Curcumin ...has emerged as one of the most powerful chemopreventative and
anticancer agents. It's biological effects range from antioxidant and anti-inflammatory to inhibition of angiogenesis, and is shown to possess
specific anti-tumoral activity."

Source: Curcumin, a dietary component, has anti-cancer, chemosensitization and radiosensitization effects by down-regulating the MDM2 oncogene through the PI3 kinase/mTOR/ETS2 pathway, Li M, Zhang Z, Hill DL, Wang H, Zhang R, Cancer Res 2007 Mar 1:67(5):1988

Although anti-cancer drugs weaken the immune system, turmeric extract strengthens the immune system as it fights cancer at every step of cancer development and propagation.

For cancer to develop, it has to initiate ...turmeric extract stops this. It has to propagate (progression and promotion), ...turmeric extract stops this. New blood vessels have to be formed to feed the new cancer cells so they can survive (angiogenesis), turmeric extract stops this, ... and turmeric extract induces apoptosis, the self-destruction of cancer cells. It does all this while protecting the rest of the body from other diseases and inflammation. Turmeric extract seems to be the perfect designer substance. It appears that man could not design or develop a more perfect substance ....but, that doesn't mean it wouldn't stop them from trying.

Interesting, but not surprising to me (Ladd McNamara), pharmaceutical companies are racing to try and come up with patentable compounds that mimic the actions of turmeric extract so they can make huge profits; when interesting enough the compound and benefits obviously already exist! Ah, the greed of mankind never ceases to amaze me. (But, we saw this with the benefits of the safety and effectiveness of grape seed extract and the eventual development of Vioxx and Celebrex, a Cox 2 inhibitor. How did that work out for Big Pharma? More importantly, how did it work out for the benefit of the patients?)

What specific cancers has turmeric extract (curcumin) been shown to benefit?

In 2007, scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham published at report in the Journal of Cancer Research showing how turmeric extract (curmumin) reduced prostate cancer cells' production of a protein MDM2, which is associated with the formation of malignant tumors. Simultaneously, curmumin prompted cells to produce another protein associated with apoptosis (programmed cell death).

It's interesting that India has has one of the lowest incidence of prostate cancer rates in the world. The annual prostate cancer incidence rate in India is ranges from 5.0 to 9.1 per 100,000/year. In contrast, among white males in the U.S., the incidence is 110.4 per 100,000/year! More than ten times higher. For black males in the U.S., it is even HIGHER! Could it be due to the consumption of turmeric? The average intake of turmeric spice in India is 2 - 2.5 grams per day. Thus, it is to our advantage to obtain turmeric extract that would surpass that in its equivalency by at least 3 to 6 fold.

Curcumin (turmeric extract) has been shown to enhance the efficacy of chemotherapy agent, gemcitabine, in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. This chemotherapy agent loses it effectiveness as the cancer progresses, curmcumin (turmeric extract) helps prevent the tumors resistance to the drug.

Curcumin (turmeric extract) interferes with the proliferation of various types of colon cancer, and it enhances the efficacy of existing an existing chemotherapeutic agent, oxaliplatin in the fight against colon cancer.

Curcumin's effect against breast cancer is nothing short of amazing; both against a common variety of breast cancer cells, as well as a mutant line of breast cancer cells that have developed resistance to chemotherapy drugs. Turmeric extract exerts its effects on cell proliferation, cycling and death. Turmeric extract (or curcumin) seems able to adapt its anticancer activity according to need, including in multi-drug resitant tumors of the breast, prostate, and leukemia cell lines.

Lastly, turmeric extract is particularly beneficial in preventing cognitive decline, in the prevention or treatment of major disabling age-related neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and stroke.

A few mechanism of action may account for such benefits. Turmeric extract appears to reduce lead toxicity by raising levels of the antioxidant glutathione, as well as bind to (chelate) heavy metals and remove them. Furthermore, turmeric extract is an antioxidant, protecting oxidative damage to neurons of the brain by promoting production of a protective enzyme hem oxygenase-1 (HO-1). This is a fundamental defense mechanism for neurons exposed to oxidation. (And, to think Pfizer wants us to use high-dose Lipitor to protect everyone from Alzheimer's disease.)

Memory loss begins by age 50, and by age 80, it predicted that half of us will advance to some form of dementia (Alzhemier's or not). Asian epidemiological studies found that those who consumed curry (with the turmeric spice) showed strong evidence of "better cognitive performance" and "less age-related dementia."

Okay, as always, "what about safety?"

Given that turmeric is a food that has been safely consumed for millennia (even by pregnant women), curcumin, or turmeric extract, would appear to be a perfect dietary supplement.

In fact, one researcher wrote:

"Curcumin has an outstanding safety profile and a number of multifunctional actions ..." Phase I clinical trials, using massive doses of curcumin, or turmeric extract (up to 8 grams/day for four months "did not result in discernable toxicities."

Source: Clinical studies with curcumin, Hsu CH, Cheng AL, Adv Exp Med Biol 2007;595:471

Source: Ladd McNamara, M.D. - expert in nutraceutical and anti-aging medicine, Ladd McNamara blog,