Historical Medicinal Uses of Turmeric
Turmeric has been used as a medicine, spice and colouring agent for thousands of years. A native plant of India and South-East Asia, it is now cultivated in many countries, but India still accounts for a large percentage of current world production. Turmeric is listed in an Assyrian herbal text (dating from about 600 BC) and was also mentioned by Dioscorides (a famous early Greek doctor) who used it as a treatment for arthritis and digestive disorders.
Medical uses of Turmeric
The Turmeric root seems to produce neuroprotective (brain-protecting) effects in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have noted that elderly people living in Indian villages appear to have the lowest incidence of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in the world, with just 1% of those aged 65 years and older suffering this terrible condition. Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles speculated that curcumin, a common element found in turmeric, could hold the key to its brain protecting qualities, given that it is known to be a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent.
Another study tested the effects of dietary curcumin intake (the major antioxidant component of turmeric) on Alzheimer’s disease. In this study, the effect of turmeric on beta-amyloid (a protein found in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers) damage was compared with the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen (sold in Australia as Nurofen also thought to protect against Alzheimers). Only Curcumin suppressed oxidative brain damage although both treatments reduced the accumulation of beta-amyloid and associated brain damage compared to controls. Dietary curcumin also resulted in better performance in memory-dependent tests.
Scientists usually go out of their way to avoid hyping up scientific results however; turmeric (and its active component curcumin) appears to have ignited some passion in cancer research scientists. Some quotes include “Curcumin appears to possess all the desirable features of a desk-designed, multipurpose drug,” wrote one research team, recently. Other investigators focused on promising anticancer activity. “Curcumin… has emerged as one of the most powerful chemopreventive and anticancer agents,” wrote Indian researchers recently. “Its biological effects range from antioxidant [and] anti-inflammatory to inhibition of angiogenesis, and [it] is also shown to possess specific antitumoral activity.” Although anticancer drugs weaken the immune system, curcumin actually enhances it, acting as an “immunorestorer.” It’s little wonder then, that cancer prevention and treatment has emerged as one of the most avidly researched aspects of curcumin’s potential benefits.
The statistics demonstrate that pancreatic cancer is basically a death sentence and this disease has attracted some recent attention as the world watched Patrick Swayze suffer with this illness.
Curcumin has also been shown to enhance the efficacy of the chemotherapy agent, gemcitabine, in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Although it is currently the best treatment for this aggressive cancer, gemcitabine often loses its effectiveness as cancer cells develop resistance to the drug. Scientists from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center showed recently that curcumin prevents the development of this resistance, in both cultured pancreatic cancer cells and in living animal models of the disease. “Overall, our results suggest that curcumin potentiates the antitumor effects of gemcitabine in pancreatic cancer by suppressing proliferation, angiogenesis, NF-kB, and NF-kB-regulated gene products,” concluded the scientists.
Breast and Colon Cancers
Curcumin’s efficacy against colon cancer has received great attention in recent years, because it’s general bioavailability (absorbability in the body is poor), so the colon is more exposed to curcumin as it passes through the digestive tract. This makes it an excellent herb for the digestive system. Further, its tolerability and safety have been demonstrated in five clinical trials in colon cancer, and further trials are currently enrolling patients. British investigators showed recently that curcumin interferes with the proliferation of various types of colon cancer, and that it enhances the efficacy of an existing chemotherapeutic agent, oxaliplatin.
Curcumin’s potential role in the fight against breast cancer is nothing short of remarkable. Italian researchers reported recently that curcumin is effective against a common variety of breast cancer cells and a mutant line of cells that has developed resistance to common chemotherapy drugs. “Through analyses of the effects on cell proliferation, cycling and death, we have observed that the antitumor activity of curcumin… is at least equal in the multi-drug-resistant breast cancer cell line (the breast cancer that doesn’t respond to drugs) compared to the ordinary breast cancer cell line,” wrote researchers.
The Italians’ research indicates that curcumin seems capable of adapting its anticancer activity according to need. “Remarkably,” wrote the scientists, “curcumin and one of its derivatives appeared to modify their molecular effects according to the diverse gene expression patterns existing in the [multidrug-resistant and ordinary breast cancer cell line]. Clearly, the structure and properties of curcumin can form the basis for the development of antitumor compounds…”
Inflammation pretty much drives or plays a part in most diseases recorded including arthritis, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Reducing inflammation benefits people suffering disorders with an inflammatory component. Curcumin has broad anti-inflammatory activities, decreasing many inflammatory mediators. Laboratory studies have identified a number of different molecules involved in inflammation that have their activities reduced by curcumin, including the pro-inflammatory chemicals phospholipase, lipoxygenase, cyclooxygenase–2 (COX-2), leukotrienes, thromboxane, prostaglandins, nitric oxide, collagenase, elastase, hyaluronidase, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1, interferon-inducible protein, tumour necrosis factor-a (TNF-a), and interleukin-12 (IL-12).
Drug Interactions with Turmeric
Turmeric, like any herbal medicine, can conflict with medications. There are numerous drugs that can interact with turmeric including people who are allergic to aspirin, people on anti-coagulant medication (such as warfrin), people with kidney disease and also people that are just about to undergo operations. As a precaution it is advised that before using this herb or any other herbal preparation, to consult your health care professional. It has been demonstrated that Turmeric can thin the blood, so it should be avoided by people on blood-thinning medication or at risk of stroke.
Therapeutic/safe dosages of Turmeric
Turmeric can be purchased in most health food stores around Australia. Apart from some individuals being sensitive to it (see above), Turmeric is remarkably safe and with up to 15 grams a day being able to be consumed without adverse effects. However, most trials use 4-6g per day. (The author of this article consumes 14g of turmeric daily first thing every morning.)
Studies have found that short and long term consumption is beneficial for the treatment of inflammation, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Longer intake of Turmeric has been associated with enhanced sporting performance. Doses of up to 15 grams have been taken for extended periods of time (years) without adverse effects.
Other herbs that can be used with Turmeric
As with many herbs, combinations can be used to add to the therapeutic value. For example:
Ginger. If you are suffering an inflammatory disorder, consuming ginger is an excellent method for reducing inflammation. Interestingly, these two herbs are commonly used in food so the combination of these herbs at an evening meal is something that should be sought before supplementing with these herbs.
Boswellia. Boswellia is one of the great anti-inflammatory herbs. It is commonly prescribed alongside turmeric for any inflammatory condition.
Ginkgo biloba. If someone is suffering Alzheimer’s disease, Ginkgo is the first herb most herbalists think of first. It has well documented benefits for the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, while also providing anti-inflammatory action for Asthma.
Resveratrol. Resveratrol is one of the great plant nutrients for the treatment of oxidative stress. Turmeric is also a potent antioxidant and brilliant for toxicity related oxidation. Resveratrol is also great at the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
Green tea. In the last 5 years there has been a plethora of data on green tea promoting its amazing anti-cancer properties. It combines beautifully with Turmeric for the treatment of a broad range of cancers, as well as the prevention of cancers.
Turmeric is a highly popular herbal medicine for those of us who find ourselves with any inflammatory condition, developing dementia or other signs of the aging process (i.e. impotence or heart disease) or suffering cancer. As we age, Turmeric becomes a more important herb to anyone who wants to maintain healthy joints, prevent cancer or to prevent neurological disease.
This article was written by Stephen Eddey and appeared in Vol 4 Issue 29.
The information contained on this website is for educational purposes only. It is not provided to diagnose, prescribe or treat any condition of the body. The information on this website should not be used as a substitute for medical counselling with a health professional.