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November 6, 2012

Food As Medicine
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“Cure-cumin” Isn’t Just a Clever Name

Ever wondered what gives curries their brilliant yellow color? It’s turmeric!

This spice has been consumed for thousands of years and has been used medicinally to treat all sorts of health issues.

The main therapeutic properties are found in a specific component of turmeric called curcumin. It is the part that gives turmeric that striking yellow colour.

I first discovered turmeric when I was reading about common carcinogens (chemicals that cause cancer).  When you cook meat on a barbecue, the fat oozes out and lands on the coals or element. The heat then vaporizes the fat and turns it into smoke. We’ve all seen the smoke billow out of a barbecue when the cook opens the top. This smoke is loaded with carcinogenic substances called benzopyrenes.

Curcumin has the ability to neutralize benzopyrenes and render them non-harmful. This was astounding for me and made me think, “if curcumin can stop cancer, what else can it do.” I opened Pandora’s box and discovered a natural powerhouse.

The Powers of Turmeric/Curcumin

Antioxidant: Curcumin has the ability to quench free radicals. What are these “free radicals” everyone is talking about? They are chemicals that float around your body looking to cause damage to tissues. They can also cause mutations in DNA. Not good if you want to prevent cancer. 1 2

Stops cancer in its tracks: The cancer-causing effects of cigarette smoke, barbecuing, and smoke of any kind are suppressed by curcumin. Bring out the turmeric marinade! 3

Brings down unwanted inflammation: Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects are as effective as phenylbutazone and cortisone.  These drugs come with many serious side effects whereas curcumin does not. 4 5

Although the oral use of curcumin is most common, turmeric can also be used topically to decrease infection and bring down inflammation.

Protects the liver: Curcumin has been shown to have a similar effect at protecting the liver as liquorice root and milk thistle. It is also incredibly effective at increasing bile release. If you are a reading this and have gallbladder issues, write this one down. 6 7

Keeps the brain sharp: There have been many studies coming out lately on how curcumin greatly reduces that rate of mental decline. 8

Kills the bad guys: When curcumin is matched up in a fight against some nasty organisms such as Clostridium, Streptococcus, Entamoeba histolytica, and several pathogenic fungi, it always comes out a winner. 9

I recommend that if you are using this spice for therapeutic purposes use curcumin and not turmeric. Curcumin is the concentrated active component and you would thus need 40,000 mg of turmeric to get 400 mg of curcumin. My guess is that you would not want to see anything yellow again after eating 40,000 mg of turmeric.

Otherwise, use the whole spice regularly to get the benefits of all of the phytonutrients.

Remember, it doesn’t work if you don’t take it.

– Josh

References:

  1. Toda S, Miyase T, Arichi H, et al. Natural antioxidants. Antioxidant compounds isolated from rhizome of Curcuma longa L. Chem Pamacol Bull (Tokyo) 1985;33:1725-1728.
  2. Zhao B, Li XJ, He RG, et al. Scavenging effect of extracts of green tea and natural antioxidants on active oxygen radicals. Call Biophys 1989;14:175-185.
  3. Polasa K, Raghuram TC, Krishna TP, et al. Effect of turmeric on urinary mutagens in smokers. Mutagenesis 1992;7:107-109.
  4.  Deodhar SD, Sethi R, Srimal RC. Preliminary studies on anti-rheumatic activity of curcumin (diferuloyl methane). Ind J Med Res 1980;71:632-634.
  5. Satoskar RR, Shah SJ, Shenoy SG. Evaluation of anti-inflammatory property of curcumin (diferuloyl methane) in patients with postoperative inflammation. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther Toxicol 1986;24:651-654.
  6. Ammon HP, Wahl MA. Pharmacology of Curcuma longa. PLanta MEd 1991;57:1-7.
  7. Kiso Y, Suzuki Y, Wantanabe N, et al. Antihepatotoxic principles of Curcuma longa rhizomes. Planta Med 1983;49:185-187.
  8. Lim GP, Chu T, Yang F, et al. The curry spice curcumin reduces oxidative damage and amyloid pathology in an Alzheimer transgenic mouse. J Neurosci 2001;21:8370-8377.
  9. Lutomski J, Kedzia B, Debska W. Effect of an alcohol extract and active ingredients from Curcuma longa on bacteria and fungi. Planta Med 1974;26:9-19.