Why Curcumin May Be The Most Amazing Botanical in the World
Amazed. Definition: greatly surprised; astounded; suddenly filled with wonder. That’s how I’ve felt the past couple of weeks after reading a mountain of papers about curcumin. I’ve been reading research and articles on supplements for many years now. I had always thought of curcumin as a nice antioxidant and just simply part of the tasty spice turmeric. I had no idea of the enormous amount of research that’s been done on curcumin, and the vast areas of metabolism it seems to impact. Even though I knew it was valuable for optimal health, it’s sometimes difficult to appreciate just how valuable something like curcumin is until you invest the time to read a number of research reports about it. I don’t suspect you’ll want to spend the upcoming weeks reading research reports, so I’ve done my best to summarize some of the most important information. Be prepared. You might want to head to your favorite Indian or Thai restaurant for some curry after you read this, and start supplementing with curcumin on a regular basis.
History of Curcumin
Chances are good that you’ve heard of curcumin. If not, how about turmeric? If you do a little bit of cooking, you’ve probably used this spice. Or maybe you’ve eaten a curried dish at your favorite Indian or Thai restaurant. Turmeric contains four major curcuminoids: curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin, and cyclocurcumin.[i] In addition to its use in cooking, turmeric is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, where its use can be documented as far back as 3000 BC. The first study for its use in humans was done in 1937.[ii] Then in 1949 and 1972 it was shown to have a beneficial impact on blood sugar levels in humans.[iii]* To date more than 3,000 studies have been conducted on curcumin. Curcumin acts on more than 100 genetic pathways, so it has the potential to have positive effects on many functions in the body, helping to support the function of the neurological, cardiovascular, endocrine, musculoskeletal, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems.[iv]* Because of these effects, it can be an important nutritional supplement for non-chronic, exercise-induced pain and soreness.* One of curcumin’s most studied effects is its ability to help maintain the body’s ongoing normal inflammatory responses.* It does so through a large number of various biochemical pathways, some of which are yet to be fully understood.* Because different, undesirable conditions can be brought about through different biochemical pathways, curcumin’s wide responses in the body can offer benefits in a number of different areas.*
Muscle and Tissue Recovery
Hindu medicine has long used curcumin to treat sprains and other swelling that results from injury.[v]* An animal study showed that using curcumin following an injury to skeletal muscle enhanced muscle regeneration after just a few days use.[vi]* In summarizing their study, the authors stated: “curcumin is the first example of a pharmacological agent with a potent effect on stimulating muscle regeneration after trauma. Localized, as well as diffuse, muscle injuries could be treated with curcumin, because it is administered systemically. Enhanced repair of muscle would be beneficial not only in muscle trauma but also in reconstructive surgery and sports-related injuries.”* One question that remains to be answered is the timing of taking curcumin. For an injury, or mild but acute trauma from a training session, a small amount of the body’s normal inflammatory response is desirable to initiate the repair process. An excessive inflammatory response is not so good. That being said, given the other benefits that curcumin provides, it is not worth obsessing about the ideal timing because the use of curcumin supports optimal health and performance in other ways beyond alleviating soreness and supporting muscle recovery.* Curcumin has also been shown to increase vasodilation similar to the effects of aerobic exercise, which can increase blood flow and nutrient delivery to tissues in need of repair.[vii]*
Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, and Fat Metabolism
Body fat is viewed as an endocrine organ, meaning fat cells aren’t simply balls of fatty acids that accumulate from too many cans of beer or dishes of ice cream. Fat cells secrete a number of hormones, some of which increase inflammation. Adipose tissue secretes leptin, resistin, plasminogen, activator inhibitor type 1 (PAI-1), and adiponectin. They also release interleukin-6 and interleukin-1, monocyte chemotactic protein (MCP)-1, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF).[viii] Excess body fat can be devastating to one’s health. In mice, curcumin administration had a positive effect on body weight in a dose-dependent manner.[ix]* Its positive effects on body weight probably comes through a number of metabolic effects.* Adiponectin levels increase with the use of curcumin.* Adiponectin levels are often reduced in obese individuals. Elevated adiponectin levels appear to be desirable in obesity.[x]* Curcumin has also been shown to stimulate fatty acid oxidation in fat cells,* although these studies have not been followed up with human studies on curcumin’s effect on fat metabolism.[xi] Curcumin supplementation demonstrated positive benefits in triglycerides and cholesterol in rats, with the benefit for cholesterol coming from the LDL-VLDL fraction.[xii]* Another animal study showed the use of curcumin had positive impacts on free fatty acid levels, total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL, and apolipoprotein A-1 levels.[xiii]* In vitro research shows LDL oxidation is reduced with curcumin as well.[xiv]* A human study showed the use of curcumin has a beneficial impact on blood sugar levels.[xv]* Another human study showed curcumin use has beneficial impacts on HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, Apo A, and Apo B.[xvi]*
One of the most difficult conversations for a fitness professional to have with a client relates to digestive function. In fact, many clients will speak more freely about their sex life and how they hope nutrition and exercise program will improve it, than they will about bowel movements, gas, and digestive troubles. It’s a huge mistake to overlook this topic. Immune function, nutrient absorption, autoimmune conditions, and protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism all depend on a fully functioning digestive system. As is the case in other parts of the body, long-term inflammation in the digestive tract can lead to more serious gastrointestinal problems.[xvii] One of curcumin’s many effects is to help maintain normal levels of inflammation in the cells lining the digestive tract.*
Curcumin has been shown to help modulate a number of neurotransmitters, including norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin.* Dopamine is important for experiencing pleasure.* Serotonin is important for proper appetite, learning, mood, muscle relaxation, sleep, and metabolic health.* Norepinephrine affects alertness, emotions, dreaming, and learning.[xviii]* Curcumin has been shown to support the growth of new brain cells, likely as a result of increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels.[xix]* Long-term use of curcumin has been shown to help support normal serotonin and dopamine levels.[xx]* In summary, adding Curcumin to your daily intake of supplements can provide substantial health benefits in all the areas listed above as well as being a powerful anti oxidant. *This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.