It could be a mighty medical multitasker
According to a detailed article compiled over years by experts at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, curcumin works in several ways, depending on what it interacts with. Barbara Delage, Ph.D., nutrition scientist with the Linus Pauling Institute’s Micronutrient Information Center and contributing author to the article, explained how a single phytochemical could possibly help with health conditions ranging from Alzheimer's disease, to cancer to rheumatoid arthritis.
“It has become increasingly clear that oxidative stress and inflammation contribute to the development and/or progression of most (if not all) chronic conditions. This explains why an anti-inflammatory drug that works to treat a specific disease might also help treat other inflammatory conditions,” Delage says.
So how does it work in the body? “Curcumin is versatile. Within cells, it can target specific molecules or pathways that are involved in the control of the cell cycle, inflammation, oxidative stress, etc., depending of the type of cells under scrutiny,” she says, who was also careful to add that, as far as using curcumin to treat these conditions, scientists still have plenty of work to do to wrap their minds around what it can and can’t do.
For example, though there’s plenty of evidence on its benefits in the preclinical studies, they haven’t quite gotten to performing as many human studies as they need to understand full well how it works. Delage also adds that most studies conducted to date on humans have been focused on investigating the efficacy of curcumin in disease management—not disease prevention.
How you reap all those benefits is harder to say
Though curcumin is regarded as safe by the Federal Drug Adminstration and is sold in various formulas far and wide, there are no guidelines established for its intake. When asked if people should consider integrating curcumin, or turmeric, into their daily wellness regimen, it doesn’t always absorb into the body easily and thus, Delage says the jury’s still out on whether it will actually do anything for you.
If you’re bound and determined to experiment with curcumin medicinally, she recommends consulting your doctor — especially if you are already on medication — because preclinical studies have indicated it might change how other medications you use are metabolized in your body. That’s because curcumin supplements also an ingredient called piperine, which boosts the effects of curcumin but also its potential toxicity because it slows down the elimination of the curcumin and prescription drugs used for seizures, high blood pressure, angina and bipolar disorder.
To back her point that more research on people is needed, just this year, one 30-year old woman suffered a fatal outcome after receiving a turmeric-infused IV-drip holistic treatment. San Diego-area news outlet KGTV reported the woman died immediately from a heart attack after having the drip to treat her eczema.
Don't put all your eggs in the turmeric basket
For dietitians like Bannan, who are always on the lookout for ways to optimize one’s diet, integrating a little turmeric here and there was a no-brainer due to its long history of established research. Yet, she doesn’t feel we should get too obsessed with any one herb or spice in hopes it will cure our ills.
“While research on nutrition is key to our learnings about how to optimize our diet, you should never base your diet on any one study or one food,” she says.
So when it comes to adding curcumin to your daily wellness regimen, Delage’s basic message is to do your homework and proceed with caution — even though all the data out there is mighty compelling. Hopefully, scientists will soon be able to corral all of curcumin’s promise into a revolutionarily helpful reality.
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