Turmeric- History and Traditional Usage
Native to Southeast Asia, Curcuma longa is a tall tropical shrub with large oblong leaves and pale yellow flowers. The genus “Curcuma” belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, which includes ginger.1 The plant possesses a large root structure with fleshy, bulbous underground parts called “rhizomes.” These rhizomes, known as turmeric root, are harvested at maturity, dried and cured for commercial use. Chemical analysis shows that dried turmeric contains essential and volatile oils, with a curcuminoid content of 2.5 to 5.0 %.2
In addition to its popularity as a spice, turmeric is used as a dye for cloth and coloring agent in foods and cosmetics, thanks to its rich yellow color. Turmeric also serves as a preservative, probably owing to the antioxidant and antimicrobial properties of curcumin. Extracts of Curcuma longa have demonstrated in vitro antibacterial and anti-fungal effects.3
Turmeric is named in ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal texts as a traditional folk remedy. Historically, turmeric was used externally for wounds, and sprains, and internally for digestive complaints, rheumatism, liver disorders, coughs and colds.4
Protects cells and tissues by fighting free radicals.*
Supports joint function*
The numerous beneficial effects attributed to turmeric stem in large measure from the antioxidant properties of curcumin. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which are highly unstable molecules that can damage cellular structures through abnormal oxidative reactions. Curcumin is a potent “scavenger” of the superoxide radical, a free radical that initiates potentially harmful oxidative processes such as lipid peroxidation.5 Through this activity, curcumin has been shown to protect skin cells from the injurious effect of nitroblue tetrazolium, a toxin that generates superoxide radicals. Curcumin also increases survival of cells exposed in vitro to the enzyme hypoxanthine/xanthine oxidase, which stimulates superoxide and hydrogen peroxide production. Curcumin itself is not toxic to cells, even at high concentrations. Pure curcumin was shown to be less protective than a mixture of curcuminoids, indicating a possible synergism among curcuminoids.6 Because free radicals are involved in aging and exert harmful effects on skin, these results suggest curcumin may help slow skin aging.
Curcumin demonstrates several other in vitro effects linked to free radical scavenging. Curcumin scavenges nitric oxide, a compound associated with the body’s inflammatory response.7 Pure curcumin and turmeric extracts protect red blood cells from lipid peroxidation induced by hydrogen peroxide.8 Curcumin has been shown to protect DNA from oxidative damage, inhibit binding of toxic metabolites to DNA, and reduce DNA mutations in the Ames’ test.9 Although additional studies suggest an anticarcinogenic effect of curcumin, through protection of DNA,10 one in vitro study found that curcumin induced DNA damage in human gastric mucosal cells.11 It is speculated that curcumin may act as a pro-oxidant in the presence of transition metal ions such as copper and iron. (This is true for other antioxidants, including vitamin C.) Curcumin also demonstrates in vitro inhibition of COX-I and COX-II enzymes, which are involved in the inflammatory reaction.12 Together these results strongly suggest that curcumin is a potent bioprotectant with a potentially wide range of therapeutic applications.
Animal studies- In vivo protective effects
Through its free radical scavenging properties, curcumin has shown bioprotective effects in animals. In one study, rats were treated with isoproterenol, a chemical that causes cardiac hypertrophy (enlargement of the heart) due to abnormal collagen metabolism. Co-treatment with curcumin reversed the degradation of collagen and cardiac hypertrophy induced by isoproterenol.13 Curcumin protects mice from detrimental effects of radiation, by stabilizing the glyoxalase system, a biological system that regulates cell division.14 Curcumin protects livers of rats from the damaging effects of carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), a potent hepatoxin that injures the liver via its free radical metabolite, CCl3.15,16 Curcumin protected rats from alcohol-induced brain damage, in a study in which oral administration of curcumin reversed lipid peroxidation, reduced levels of free-radical metabolites and increased levels of glutathione, a major physiologic antioxidant.17 Curcuma longa extracts have shown anti-inflammatory effects in rats.18
Curcumin exhibits free-radical scavenging ability when administered to humans. In an open trial (uncontrolled), 18 healthy individuals ranging in age from 27 to 67 years consumed a Curcuma longa extract, at a dose supplying 20 mg curcuminoids, for 45 days. Before and after blood tests showed a statistically significant decrease in lipid peroxides.19 Preliminary trials have tested the anti-inflammatory action of curcumin, with results that verify the traditional use of turmeric as an anti-rheumatic herb. In a short-term double-blind, cross-over, comparative study, 18 people received curcumin (1200 mg daily) or phenylbutazone for two week periods. Both curcumin and phenylbutazone produced measurable improvements in joint flexibility and walking time. The subjects reported results only with phenylbutazone, which may be explained by the short duration of the trial.20 In a small placebo-controlled trial comparing curcumin to phenylbutazone, 45 patients with post-operative inflammation received curcumin, phenylbutazone or placebo. The anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin and phenylbutazone were comparable and superior to placebo.21 Curcumin has not been found to produce an analgesic (pain relieving) effect.
Bioperine-Nature’s Absorption Enhancer Boosts Curcumin Absorption*
Traditional Ayurvedic herbal formulas often include black pepper and long pepper as synergistic herbs. The active ingredient in both black pepper and long pepper is the alkaloid, piperine. Experiments carried out to evaluate the scientific basis for the use of peppers have shown that piperine significantly enhances bioavailability when consumed with other substances.22 Several double-blind clinical studies have confirmed that Bioperine® increases absorption of nutrients.23
Curcumin is poorly absorbed in the intestinal tract, limiting its therapeutic effectiveness. Oral doses are largely excreted in feces, and only trace amounts appear in the blood. Concomitant administration of 20 mg of piperine with 2 grams of curcumin increases the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000%.24
1. Majeed, M., Badmaev, V., Shivakumar, U., Rajendran, R. Curcuminoids. 1995. Piscataway, NJ: NutriScience Publishers.
2. Srimal, R.C. Turmeric: a brief review of its medicinal properties. Fitoterapia 1997;68(6):483-93.
3. Ammon, H.P.T., Wahl, M.A. Pharmacology of Curcuma longa. Planta Medica 1991;57:1-7.
4. Snow, J.M. Herbal Monograph: Curcuma longa L. (Zingiberaceae). The Protocol Journal of Botanical Medicine, Autumn 1995:43-46.
5. Rao, N.S., Rao, M.N.A. Free radical scavenging activity of curcuminoids. Arzneim.-Forsch./Drug Res. 1996;46(2):169-171.
6. Bonté. F. et al. Protective effect of curcuminoids on epidermal skin cells under free oxygen radical stress. Planta Medica 1997;63:265-66.
7. Rao, S., Rao, M.N.A. Nitric oxide scavenging by curcuminoids. J Pharm. Pharmacol. 1997;49:105-7.
8. Lalitha, S., Selvam, R. Prevention of H2Os-induced red blood cell lipid peroxidation by aqueous extracted turmeric. Asia Pacific J Clin Nutr 1999;8(2):113-14.
9. Deshpande, S.S., Maru, G.B. Effects of curcumin on the formation of benzo[a]pyrene derived DNA adducts in vitro. Cancer Letters 1995;96:71-80.
10. Subramanian, M., et al. Diminution of singlet oxygen-induced DNA damage by curcumin and related antioxidants. Mutation Research 1994;311:249-55.
11. Blasiak, J., Trzeciak, A., Kowalik, J. Curcumin damages DNA in human gastric mucosa cells and lymphocytes. Journal of Environmental Pathology, Toxicology and Oncology 1999;18(4):271-76.
12. Ramsewak, R.S., DeWitt, D.L., Nair, M.G. Cytotoxicity, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activities of Curcumins I-III from Curcuma longa. Phytomedicine 2000;7(4):303-308.
13. Nirmala, C. Anand, S., Puvanakrishnan, R. Curcumin treatment modulates collagen metabolism in isoproterenol induced myocardial necrosis in rats. Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry 1999;197:31-37.
14. Choudhary, D., Chandra, D. Kale, R.K. Modulation of radioresponse of glyoxalase system by curcumin. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1999;64:1-7.
15. Park, E-J. et al. Protective effect of curcumin in rat liver injury induced by carbon tetrachloride. J Pharm. Pharmacol. 2000;52:437-40.
16. Deshpande, U.R. et al. Protective effect of turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) extract on carbon tetrachloride-induced liver damage in rats. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology 1998;36:573-77.
17. Rajakrishnan, V. et al. Neuroprotective role of curcumin from Curcuma longa on ethanol-induced brain damage. Phytotherapy Research 1999;13:571-74.
18. Arora, R.B. Basu, N., Kapoor, V., Jain, A.P. Anti-inflammatory studies on Curcuma longa (Turmeric). Indian J Med Res 1971;59(8):1289-95.
19. Ramirez-Bosca, A. et al. Antioxidant curcuma extracts decrease the blood peroxide levels of human subjects. Age 1995;18:167-69.
20. Deodhar, S.D., Sethi, R. Srimal. R.C. Preliminary study on antirheumatic activity of curcumin (diferoyl methane). Indian J Med Res 1980;71:632-34.
21. Satoskar, R.R., Shah, S J. Shenoy, S.G. Evaluation of anti-inflammatory property of curcumin (diferoyl methane) in patients with postoperative inflammation. International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, Therapy and Toxicolgy 1986;24(12):651-54.
22. Atal, C., Zutshi, U., Rao, P. Scientific evidence on the role of Ayurvedic herbals on bioavailability of drugs. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1981;4:229-232.
23. Bioperine®–Nature's Bioavailability Enhancing Thermonutrient. Executive Summary. 1996; Sabinsa Corporation, Piscataway, N.J.
24. Shoba, G., et al. Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta Medica 1998;64(4):353-6.
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