For thousands of years, turmeric has been a staple in the diets of people living in India. But what you want is not the turmeric but the active ingredient, curcumin (and more specifically, its three curcuminoids). Here’s the science that points to positives in making curcumin part of your daily supplement regimen
For thousands of years, turmeric has been a staple in the diets of people living in India. The golden-yellow, mild-flavored spice is a part of seemingly every meal in the subcontinent, from tandoori chicken to curries to egg bhurji, or Indian-style scrambled eggs.
But let’s get one thing straight: Although we have nothing against amping up a rice dish with savory cumin and turmeric, what you want is not the turmeric but the active ingredient, curcumin (and more specifically, its three curcuminoids). Think of turmeric as an apple tree but curcumin as the apples.
Here’s the science that points to positives in making curcumin part of your daily supplement regimen.
Researchers in Iran gave 1 gram per day of curcumin to people who were overweight and who suffered from both anxiety and depression.
After 30 days, the researchers discovered the curcumin helped with anxiety but did not exert any big effect on depression. Caveat: The depression study mentioned above noted effects took at least four weeks to begin, so perhaps this study did not last long enough. The takeaway: Give curcumin a shot for two bottles’ worth.
Arthritis and joint pain
Curcumin is most renowned for helping the body deal with systemic, low-grade inflammation, which is a hallmark of joint pain. This was validated in a study of 367 people with knee osteoarthritis and a WOMAC pain score higher than 5 (out of 20). Participants received either 1,200 mg per day of ibuprofen or 1,500 mg per day of curcumin extract for four weeks. Researchers measured pain, stiffness, function and adverse effects. The two groups both said they were satisfied with their treatment, but those taking curcumin were a little less stiff, and the ibuprofen group had significantly more abdominal pain.
Recent studies have found curcumin can improve the anticancer effects of chemo in cancer patients, which could mean patients may dial back their chemo dose or render the chemo dose more effective.
“Curcumin has also been studied for reducing the side effects of these treatments,” said Anurag Pande, PhD, lead scientist at Sabinsa, a curcumin ingredient supplier, “such as radiation- induced dermatitis in breast cancer patients.” Radiation dermatitis—a skin burn or rash associated with radiation treatment for cancer—has no great treatment, but one study found 6 grams a day of curcumin led to less than one-third of participants complaining of skin peeling, compared to nearly nine in ten of those who took the placebo.
When major depression strikes, Americans turn to Prozac. The pharmaceutical seems to be effective, but it also features side effects, including anxiety, insomnia and sexual dysfunction. That’s about enough to make a person depressed! A 2013 study compared Prozac with 1,000 mg of curcumin for six weeks. Although the researchers said there was no real difference between any of the treatments, the curcumin-only approach helped 62.5 percent of patients, the Prozac worked for 64.7 percent, and the combination dose worked for 77.8 percent. “Curcumin was found to be equivalent to fluoxetine (Prozac),” researchers concluded.
A gold-standard study the next year among those with major depressive disorder found 500 mg twice daily of curcumin took between four and eight weeks to take effect, and worked better with atypical depression—which is both more difficult to treat and the most common type.
Two studies from researchers in Iran in the past two years assessed curcumin for PMS symptoms. In one, after using 100 mg of curcumin powder twice daily for three menstrual cycles (seven days prior and for the next three days), the average PMS-symptom score dropped 59 points, while in the placebo group it fell only 14 points. In the second study, using the same dose and time frame, curcumin significantly improved the women’s moods, as well as behavioral and physical symptoms. Of note, researchers found curcumin worked by reducing inflammation and also because it shifted the BDNF hormone, which is known to drop in challenging PMS cycles.
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