As we age, things start getting a little rusty in our bodies. If you've begun to lament the fact that you took your good health for granted in your youth, don't be disheartened: It's never too late to drastically improve your health through diet, exercise, and supplementation. The natural world is filled with substances that benefit the body, and modern medications are often derived from these compounds. One natural substance that packs a powerful health punch is turmeric.
Turmeric is that bright yellow spice that gives your favorite curry its appetizing color, and it has benefits beyond pleasing your taste buds. In India, it's been used for thousands of years not only as a spice but also as a medicinal herb. Turmeric contains compounds called curcuminoids, and the most potent of these is curcumin.
Through an impressive body of research, modern science confirms the wide-ranging benefits of curcumin. Here are five scientifically proven benefits of this compound.
Inflammation is an important process that protects the body from foreign invaders like toxins, bacteria, and viruses and helps heal injury and infection. But chronic inflammation that occurs when invaders or injury are not present contributes to diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and autoimmune diseases.
Curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory compound that can reduce body-wide inflammation. In fact, a literature review published in the journal Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology identifies curcumin as an effective therapeutic intervention for a wide range of pathological conditions associated with inflammation.
Aging and disease are, in large part, caused by oxidative damage to the body due to free radicals, which are unstable molecules that damage tissues, cells, and DNA. Antioxidants reduce and even prevent oxidation by removing free radicals from the cells before they can do their dirty work.
Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant, but it also stimulates the activity of the body's own antioxidant enzymes for a one-two punch that helps fight cell damage and reduce the effects of aging.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, is a growth hormone in the brain that supports the health of existing neurons and encourages the growth of new neurons and synapses. Brain disorders like depression and Alzheimer's have been linked to low levels of BDNF. A study published in the journal Brain Research found that curcumin increases BDNF in the brain, which can effectively delay or even reverse a range of brain diseases and improve brain function as we age.
A study published in the AAPS Journal found that curcumin reduces the growth of new blood vessels in tumors, slows the spread of cancer, and contributes to the death of cancerous cells. In a study of men with colon lesions, four grams of curcumin per day reduced the number of lesions by 40 percent. More research is underway to determine whether curcumin can be an effective treatment for cancer.
Heart disease is the number-one killer of both men and women in the U.S. and worldwide, and it's a complex disease with a range of contributing factors. Oxidation and inflammation both contribute to heart disease, and we know that curcumin can help reduce these.
Another major contributor is endothelial dysfunction. The endothelium is the lining of the blood vessels, which helps regulate blood pressure and blood clotting, among other things. A study published in the journal Nutrition Research found that curcumin is as effective as exercise for improving endothelial function.
The amount of curcumin in turmeric is relatively low, at just three percent by weight. But most of the studies concerning this compound are based on doses of at least one gram per day. You'd have to consume an awful lot of turmeric to see any benefits from curcumin, but curcumin extract supplements provide significant amounts for greater therapeutic effects.
Curcumin isn't easily absorbed into the bloodstream, but research shows that a substance called piperine, which is found in abundance in black pepper, increases the body's absorption of curcumin by 2,000 percent, according to a study published in the journal Planta Medica. Curcumin is fat soluble, which means it requires fat to break down and do its thing. Taking a supplement with a bit of healthy fat--an avocado or some nuts should do nicely--will also enhance its absorption and its effects.
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