We need to shift into a system of medicine that is focused on preventing disease based on natural methods like diet, tonic herbs, and good lifestyle choices rather than treating the symptoms of the disease once it has occurred. Part of this is educating people about important tonic herbs, like turmeric. The Indians have known for thousands of years that turmeric is a ‘rasayana’ herb, capable of protecting against disease and increasing life-span (Winston, 2007). We are in the process of discovering in science what they have known in Ayurveda for a long time; here are 10 scientific reasons why we should consider including curcumin as a daily supplement or alternatively cook with turmeric every day. Note, all but three of these studies were conducted in animals, but the overall trends are convincing. The positive human clinical trials are for reducing depression, osteoarthritis pain, and preventing type II diabetes (double blind placebo controlled).

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  1. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory activity in the brain (Kim et al., 2003). Researchers have found that brain inflammation is linked to degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s (McGeer et al., 1995) and so curcumin should help prevent these diseases occuring.
  2. Curcumin has anti-oxidant activity in the brain and reduces amyloid aggregates (Lim et al., 2001). Amyloid aggregates are associated with developing Alzheimer’s and curcumin has been found to arrest their formation, it also reduces oxidative stress in the brain.
  3. Curcumin is an anti-depressant (Lopresti et al., 2014). Curcumin has been found to significantly reduce the symptoms of depression in a large randomised double blind placebo controlled human trial.
  4. Curcumin protects against bowel cancer (Kawamori et al., 1999). Researchers have found feeding rats curcumin inhibits tumour development in the early stages of colon cancer. It is likely these effects will translate to humans.
  5. Curcumin protects the liver (Deshpande et al., 1998). Turmeric exerts a protective effect against chemically induced liver damage in experimental models, researchers found that turmeric. Similar effects have been observed in other animal studies (Park et al., 2000).
  6. Curcumin protects the heart (Nirmala et al., 1996). Treatment with curcumin pre- and post-treatment decreased the severity of pathological changes associated with myocardial infarction otherwise known as a heart attack.
  7. Curcumin fights osteoarthritis (Panahi et al., 2014). Curcumin has been found to reduce pain in patients with osteoarthritis in a randomised double blind placebo controlled human trial.
  8. Curcumin may reduce chronic neuropathic pain (Zhao et al., 2012). Long term use of curcumin was able to reduce the sensitivity to pain in animals with neuropathic injury.
  9. Curcumin has anti-microbial activity against unwanted microorganisms (Mahady et al., 2002). Curcumin has been found ex vivo to inhibit the growth of helicobacter pylori, a microorganism associated with gastric and colon cancers.
  10. Curcumin protects against developing type II diabetes (Chuengsamarn et al., 2012). In a landmark study researchers found that curcumin helps protect against developing type II diabetes. The journal has an impact factor >10 which is rare for studies of herbal medicines.

Summary

Turmeric is one of those special herbs that lies somewhere in-between medicine and food, it clearly has a vast array of medicinal properties and I would argue it can help both prevent and treat disease. However, more human well conducted trials are needed instead of animal studies. It is up to us to decide whether to rely on traditional knowledge and limited science or not. However, I recommend learning about the other rasayana herbs as turmeric is just one of a protective army of plant medicines from ancient Indian medicine.

References:

Chuengsamarn, Somlak, et al. “Curcumin extract for prevention of type 2 diabetes.” Diabetes care 35.11 (2012): 2121-2127.

Deshpande, U. R., et al. “Protective effect of turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) extract on carbon tetrachloride-induced liver damage in rats.” Indian journal of experimental biology 36.6 (1998): 573-577.

García-Niño, Wylly Ramsés, and José Pedraza-Chaverrí. “Protective effect of curcumin against heavy metals-induced liver damage.” Food and chemical toxicology 69 (2014): 182-201.

Kawamori, Toshihiko, et al. “Chemopreventive effect of curcumin, a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agent, during the promotion/progression stages of colon cancer.” Cancer research 59.3 (1999): 597-601.

Kim, Hee Young, et al. “Curcumin suppresses Janus kinase-STAT inflammatory signaling through activation of Src homology 2 domain-containing tyrosine phosphatase 2 in brain microglia.” The Journal of Immunology 171.11 (2003): 6072-6079.

Lim, Giselle P., et al. “The curry spice curcumin reduces oxidative damage and amyloid pathology in an Alzheimer transgenic mouse.” Journal of Neuroscience 21.21 (2001): 8370-8377.

Lopresti, Adrian L., et al. “Curcumin for the treatment of major depression: a randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled study.” Journal of affective disorders 167 (2014): 368-375.

Mahady, G. B., et al. “Turmeric (Curcuma longa) and curcumin inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pylori, a group 1 carcinogen.” Anticancer research 22.6C (2002): 4179-4181.

McGeer, Patrick L., and Edith G. McGeer. “The inflammatory response system of brain: implications for therapy of Alzheimer and other neurodegenerative diseases.” Brain Research Reviews 21.2 (1995): 195-218.

Panahi, Yunes, et al. “Curcuminoid Treatment for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Double‐Blind Placebo‐Controlled Trial.” Phytotherapy Research 28.11 (2014): 1625-1631.

Park, Eun‐Jeon, et al. “Protective effect of curcumin in rat liver injury induced by carbon tetrachloride.” Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 52.4 (2000): 437-440.

Nirmala, Chandrasekar, and Rengarajulu Puvanakrishnan. “Protective role of curcumin against isoproterenol induced myocardial infarction in rats.” Molecular and cellular biochemistry 159.2 (1996): 85-93.

Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.

Zhao, Xin, et al. “Curcumin exerts antinociceptive effects in a mouse model of neuropathic pain: descending monoamine system and opioid receptors are differentially involved.” Neuropharmacology 62.2 (2012): 843-854.