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TURMERIC: IS THE 'GOLDEN SPICE' WORTH ALL THE HYPE? by Maria Arshad

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Maria is a University Lecturer, a Clinical Dietitian and Nutritionist in Pakistan.

Turmeric-powder-and-turmeric-capsules-on-wooden-background-842247612_1248x8Turmeric seemingly can’t go wrong. You only have to #turmeric on X to see how amazing it is…even for cats (although their fur turns yellow…. Or is that someone’s idea of a joke?) The combination of scientific research, wellness trends, cultural interest, sustainability concerns and market dynamics all contribute to turmeric's current high profile. Maria Arshad adds some spice to this topic by looking at the evidence-base…

Turmeric is an ancient spice belonging to the ginger family and cultivated from the rhizomes of the Curcuma longa plant. There is increasing scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of turmeric, particularly its active compound, curcumin. Studies suggest that curcumin has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and potentially anticancer properties, to name but a few.

Other components of turmeric include demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin, which, along with curcumin, are collectively termed ‘curcuminiods’.1 Turmeric also contains water, carbohydrates and a small amount of fats and proteins. Some micronutrients are also found in turmeric like vitamin B2, vitamin C, magnesium, calcium and phosphorous.2 All good stuff… And, as we all know, turmeric can be added to different foods and drinks (eg, tea, milk, broth, smoothies, soup, rice and lentils) for flavouring and to potentially prevent the risk of various diseases. The bioavailability of curcumin can be enhanced by using it with the black pepper. The black pepper comprised of bioactive compound which is piperine and increased the overall absorption of nutrients in the body by 20 times.1

SO, WHAT EXACTLY ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS?

There is increasing scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of turmeric. Alongside those listed above, potential health promoting properties also include anti-metabolic, neuroprotective and positive effects on skin.2

DOES TURMERIC HAVE ANTIOXIDANT ACTIVITY

Free radicals are produced as a result of ageing or in various diseases. Curcumin has the ability to scavenge free radicals generated as a result of oxidative stress. Previous studies have found that turmeric consumption stimulates antioxidants, including superoxide dismutase, glutathione and catalase, that could reduce the level of oxidative stress markers.3

ANY ANTI-INFLAMMATORY POTENTIAL?

Oxidative stress is formed in many chronic diseases, which is closely associated with inflammation. The inflammatory cells induce the formation of free radicals at the site of inflammation, leading to inflammatory response. Curcumin can inhibit the inflammatory response from NF-kB through the signalling pathway. It also decreases the proinflammatory cytokines and modulates inflammation.4,5

DOES IT HAVE ANTI-METABOLIC PROPERTIES?

Metabolic syndrome is defined as a condition in which there is deposition of fat, a high level of triglycerides and insulin resistance. Recent literature demonstrated that curcumin could improve insulin sensitivity, decrease the rate of blood pressure and modulate the lipid metabolism. Consequently, the study showed that it reduced the level of triglycerides in plasma and increased the number of high-density lipoproteins.6

IS TURMERIC GOOD FOR SKIN HEALTH?

The ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun stimulates free radical production by penetrating the epidermis layer of our skin. The texture of the skin is lost due to continuous exposure to radiation, which increases lipid damage. In one study, turmeric extract lessened the inflammation and protected the skin from further damage due to UV-B rays.7

DOES IT HAVE NEUROPROTECTIVE ACTIVITY?

Neurological problems are a major cause of mortality worldwide. Attention in this area focuses on curcumin due to its neuroprotective effects. The neuroprotective attributes may be due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. One review has shown that curcumin increases the level of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).8 This ultimately decreases the concentration of nitric oxide, which in return reduces the level of lipid peroxidation in brain tissue to prevent depression and improve memory loss and cognitive functioning.9

TurmericDOES TURMERIC REDUCE THE RISK OF CANCER?

Cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide. In 2022, there were almost 20 million new cases and 9.7 million cancer-related deaths worldwide.10

The treatment of cancer depends on several factors and includes surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The use of therapeutic agents to treat cancer is in dire need of research at a global level. Curcumin is determined for anticancer properties in various cancers, such as breast, prostate and cervical cancers. A 2019 review reported that curcumin suppressed the growth of cancerous cells and induced apoptosis by reducing the level of transcription factors, as well as inhibited the proliferation of tumours.11-13

THE SAFETY PERSPECTIVE

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved turmeric supplements as ‘being recognised as safe’ (GRAS Notice 000686: Curcumin from turmeric).14 Three teaspoons of turmeric (8g) is advised as being a safe daily dosage.15 However, high doses can cause some side effects, so it’s best to consult a doctor or healthcare professional before taking curcumin supplements, especially if taking blood thinners.16 It’s also advisable to be careful taking turmeric supplements during pregnancy and lactation, if undergoing major surgery and for those with diabetes.16-19 The best advice is to seek advice!

CONCLUSION

The importance of natural ingredients in the prevention of chronic diseases and improving the well-being of humans is becoming more and more recognised. Now, medicinal plants are being used for the development of novel medications. Turmeric is known as the golden spice used traditionally in different parts of the world not just for cooking, but for providing health benefits. Curcumin is the main bioactive compound of turmeric and offers a broad range of benefits to human health. The versatile properties of turmeric are well studied; however, further research is needed to explore its impact in the future.

Maria Arshad
Clinical Dietitian and Nutritionist
Lecturer (Food and Nutrition), Gift University, Gujranwala, Pakistan

Maria is passionate about promoting well-being through healthy lifestyle choices.
She has expertise in obesity, diabetes and PCOS.
Her research interests are functional foods and nutraceuticals.

References

  1. El-Saadony MT, Yang T, Korma A, Sitohy M, Abd El-Mageed TA, Selim S, Al Jaouni SK, Salem HM, Mahmmod Y, Soliman SM and Mo’men SA (2023). Impacts of turmeric and its principal bioactive curcumin on human health: Pharmaceutical, medicinal, and food applications: A comprehensive review. Frontiers in Nutrition, 9, p.1040259
  2. Sahoo JP, Behera L, Praveena J, Sawant S, Mishra A, Sharma SS, Ghosh L, Mishra AP, Sahoo AR, Pradhan P and Sahu S (2021). The golden spice turmeric (Curcuma longa) and its feasible benefits in prospering human health - a review. American Journal of Plant Sciences, 12(3), pp 455-475
  3. Sahebkar A, Serban MC, Ursoniu S and Banach M (2015). Effect of curcuminoids on oxidative stress: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Journal of Functional Foods, 18, pp 898-909
  4. Jurenka JS (2009). Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a major constituent of Curcuma longa: a review of preclinical and clinical research. Alternative Medicine Review, 14(2)
  5. Panahi Y, Hosseini MS, Khalili N, Naimi E, Simental-Mendía LE, Majeed M and Sahebkar A (2016). Effects of curcumin on serum cytokine concentrations in subjects with metabolic syndrome: A post-hoc analysis of a randomised controlled trial. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 82, pp 578-582
  6. Mohammadi A, Sahebkar A, Iranshahi M, Amini M, Khojasteh R, Ghayour‐Mobarhan M and Ferns GA (2013). Effects of supplementation with curcuminoids on dyslipidemia in obese patients: a randomised crossover trial. Phytotherapy Research, 27(3), pp 374-379
  7. Deng H, Wan M, Li H, Chen Q, Li R, Liang B and Zhu H (2021). Curcumin protection against ultraviolet-induced photo-damage in Hacat cells by regulating nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2. Bioengineered, 12(2), pp 9993-10006
  8. Askarizadeh A, Barreto GE, Henney NC, Majeed M and Sahebkar A (2020). Neuroprotection by curcumin: A review on brain delivery strategies. International Journal of Pharmaceutics,585, pp 119476
  9. Belviranlı M, Okudan N, Atalık KEN and Öz M (2013). Curcumin improves spatial memory and decreases oxidative damage in aged female rats. Biogerontology, 14, pp 187-196
  10. Hay E, Lucariello A, Contieri M, Esposito T, De Luca A, Guerra G and Perna A (2019). Therapeutic effects of turmeric in several diseases: An overview. Chemico-biological Interactions, 310, pp 108729
  11. Li X, Xie W, Xie C, Huang C, Zhu J, Liang Z, Deng F, Zhu M, Zhu W, Wu R and Wu J (2014). Curcumin modulates miR‐19/PTEN/AKT/p53 axis to suppress bisphenol A‐induced MCF‐7 breast cancer cell proliferation. Phytotherapy Research, 28(10), pp 1553-1560
  12. Dang YP, Yuan XY, Tian R, Li DG and Liu W (2015). Curcumin improves the paclitaxel-induced apoptosis of HPV‑positive human cervical cancer cells via the NF‑κB‑p53‑caspase‑3 pathway. Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, 9(4), pp 1470-1476
  13. Liu TE, Chi H, Chen J, Chen C, Huang Y, Xi H, Xue J and Si Y (2017). Curcumin suppresses proliferation and in vitro invasion of human prostate cancer stem cells by ceRNA effect of miR-145 and lncRNA-ROR. Gene, 631, pp 29-38
  14. FDA. https://www.fda.gov/files/food/published/GRAS-Notice-000686---Curcumin-from-turmeric-%28Curcuma-longa-L.%29.pdf
  15. WebMD. Turmeric - Uses, Side Effects, And More. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-662/turmeric
  16. British Heart Foundation. Heart Matters. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/ask-the-expert/turmeric-supplements
  17. Sahebkar A and Henrotin Y (2016). Analgesic efficacy and safety of curcuminoids in clinical practice: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Pain Medicine, 17(6), pp 1192-1202
  18. Singletary K (2020). Turmeric: potential health benefits. Nutrition Today, 55(1), pp 45-56
  19. Storka A, Vcelar B, Klickovic U, Gouya G, Weisshaar S, Aschauer S, Bolger G, Helson L and Woltz M (2015). Safety, tolerability and pharmacokinetics of liposomal curcumin (Lipocurc™) in healthy humans. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther, 53(1), pp 54-65

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