If you’re concerned about inflammation—or if you’re already suffering from an inflammatory condition like arthritis or heart disease—it’s time to become acquainted with curcumin.
This deep golden polyphenol compound is the active ingredient in turmeric. It has gained fans throughout the world thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities.
A growing number of studies on the compound—more than 18,000 to date—show that curcumin is one of the best ways to keep chronic inflammation at bay while still supporting a healthy inflammatory response. It also helps foster healthy heart, liver, lung, and kidney function, as well as normal cell proliferation.
One of the primary reasons curcumin is so effective is that, unlike synthetic drugs, it reduces inflammation through multiple inflammatory targets. Curcumin is also a potent antioxidant able to neutralize free radicals that can oxidize and damage cells. This is important because studies show that when cells become inflamed, they release large amounts of these oxidized free radicals (technically known as reactive oxygen species) at the site of the inflammation. And this leads to oxidative stress that can break down cells and contribute to DNA damage. This process then causes even more damaging inflammation.
Because curcumin provides both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, it’s highly effective for preventing and treating a wide range of conditions. These dual properties may also explain why it has few, if any, side effects.
The brain can benefit from curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in several ways. By reducing inflammatory markers in the bloodstream, curcumin prevents low levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine that govern mood. In a published study that compared a special highly absorbable type of curcumin called BCM-95 to two popular antidepressants, curcumin was found to be just as effective as the two drugs¾but without the adverse side effects common to the pharmaceuticals. Another clinical study of people with major depressive disorder (MDD) found that a high-absorption curcumin supplement worked just as well as the prescription drug fluoxetine in people with MDD.
Additionally, laboratory research shows that curcumin promotes the formation of new neurons in the brain—a process known as neurogenesis. Preliminary studies also suggest that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits of curcumin may have a protective effect against the formation and accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, thus helping to preserve cognition.
Curcumin’s Cardiovascular Advantages
Curcumin supports cardiovascular health by preventing the inflammatory changes that lead to plaque buildup and by increasing protective HDL cholesterol levels. In fact, volunteers receiving 500 mg of curcumin daily in a small clinical trial experienced a 29 percent increase in their HDL levels. Curcumin has also been found to lower serum triglycerides by 27 percent. Plus, the compound’s anti-inflammatory action shows promise for those with atherosclerosis—the buildup of plaque that narrows and stiffens arteries. Curcumin effectively reduces inflammation and other factors inside the arteries that contribute to atherosclerosis, which is the leading cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease.
Although diabetes is a metabolic disorder, inflammation plays a very strong role in its development and progression. In fact, some researchers now believe that chronic low-level inflammation¾especially when paired with obesity¾is actually the cause of the insulin resistance that increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. In an experimental model of diabetes, curcumin was compared to the drug rosiglitazone and was found to be equally effective in reducing insulin resistance, inflammatory markers, and fats in the bloodstream. Other research suggests that curcumin can decrease blood sugar levels in as little as two weeks. This effectively lowers HbA1c levels, a measurement of the amount of sugar in your bloodstream over time. Additionally, scientific studies have found that curcumin may protect against other problems associated with diabetes, such as the breakdown of eye tissue, potential brain damage, nerve pain (neuropathy), and heart disease.
An interesting property of curcumin is its ability to protect chondrocytes¾specialized cells found in joint cartilage¾from being broken down by inflammatory compounds in the body. New findings published in The Journal of Interferon & Cytokine Research report that curcumin provides joint protection by inhibiting a key inflammasome (a multiple-protein complex that activates pro-inflammatory cytokines) to reduce inflammation. Often paired with boswellia—another high-powered natural anti-inflammatory—curcumin not only protects against the tissue damage that can lead to joint deterioration. In a recent 12-week, placebo-controlled, double-blind study, BCM-95 curcumin and a proprietary form of boswellia sold under the brand name of BOS-10 effectively reduced the inflammation that can lead to joint pain and mobility issues.
Chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract is associated with several commonly experienced diseases¾particularly irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and Crohn’s disease. Bloating, frequent diarrhea or constipation, gas, abdominal pain, and even heartburn and acid reflux can all be signs that unchecked inflammation is undermining the proper function of your digestive system. A study including more than 200 people with IBS found that curcumin was associated with a 25 percent reduction in abdominal pain. Plus two-thirds of the participants reported an overall improvement in their other symptoms.
In a small pilot study of patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative proctitis (a type of IBD) who received curcumin along with standard anti-inflammatory drugs, many were able to reduce or stop the medications. Inflammation markers also decreased to within normal limits. One of the interesting benefits of curcumin is that it not only reduces inflammatory compounds in the intestines but also strengthens the intestinal wall to prevent harmful bacteria from entering the bloodstream¾a condition known as leaky gut syndrome.
One of the underlying factors behind pain is inflammation. This is particularly true for those suffering from the chronic pain that comes with arthritis, fibromyalgia, low back pain, migraines, sciatica, and other hard-to-treat conditions. Conventional medicine often turns to drugs designed to block the pain signals to the brain. But without addressing inflammation, these strategies rarely offer long-term relief. Fortunately, curcumin has been shown to provide relief equal to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but without any of the side effects common to prescription and over-the-counter medications.
In one clinical trial of 139 people with osteoarthritis of the knee, researchers compared a specialized form of curcumin (BCM-95) with the NSAID diclofenac. After 28 days, they found that curcumin was just as effective as diclofenac for reducing the severity of pain. And unlike the people taking the NSAID, none of the participants in the curcumin group suffered from gastrointestinal side effects. Another study of 44 migraine sufferers found that taking 500 mg of curcumin twice a day reduced the frequency, severity, and duration of their migraines. The researchers concluded that these benefits were due to curcumin’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
As beneficial as curcumin is, there’s one glitch: it isn’t readily absorbed by the body. In fact, much of the curcumin you ingest is excreted from the body before it can do much good. What does remain is transformed into less potent metabolites in the digestive tract, limiting its effectiveness. To solve this problem, researchers have attempted to enhance curcumin by combining it with black pepper extract (piperine) or soy lecithin, or by utilizing nanotechnology¾strategies that have problematic limitations. But one form that has proven to greatly enhance absorption and effectiveness is BCM-95 curcumin. Blending curcumin with turmeric essential oil in a special patented process, BCM-95 not only has 700 percent enhanced bioavailability; it contains beneficial compounds from turmeric essential oil called ar-turmerones that are not found in any curcumin product. BCM-95 is the only enhanced-absorption system that comes from the turmeric plant itself—nothing synthetic, no chemicals. This may be why BCM-95 curcumin is the most clinically studied, enhanced-absorbability curcumin in the world, with over 85 published studies of which more than 35 are human clinical trials.
Curcumin vs. Turmeric: What’s the Difference?
Turmeric is perhaps the best-known botanical throughout India. This vibrant golden root has been used for centuries to flavor curries, as part of religious ceremonies, and as a healing remedy to treat everything from chicken pox to congestion to sprained ankles. Today, however, it’s the medicinal properties this spice offers that are creating a buzz in the health world. But, while turmeric may be trendy, the real secret to its healing powers lies in its curcumin content. The problem is turmeric root only contains two percent to five percent curcumin. That means you would have to take a very large amount of unstandardized powdered turmeric root to get any real benefit from the curcumin within—assuming your body could absorb and utilize it. Though turmeric is a great addition to your next curry, an absorbable form of curcumin, particularly one combined with turmeric essential oil and standardized for curcuminoids, is a much better choice for reducing inflammation and providing head-to-toe health benefits.