Curcumin is a natural phenol (a hydroxyl group, OH, bonded to an aromatic hydrocarbon group) present in the spice turmeric. The spice turmeric, popular in South Asian cuisine, comes from the root of the turmeric plant. Turmeric gives curry dishes a bright orange-yellow color, as well as an appealing taste, but that’s not all: in the past several years, scientists have begun to uncover many properties of curcumin that can aid human health. Here are five things you may not know about curcumin.
Curcumin appears to lessen depression
Researchers have noticed for years that curcumin appears to have anti-depressant effects, but they have had difficulty elucidating the mechanism for this action. According to research published in the August issue of BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, one month of treatment with curcumin reversed the symptoms of three weeks of chronic unpredictable stress in laboratory rats. Additionally, curcumin therapy remedied the abnormalities in brain glucose metabolism that were induced by the stress upon the rats. This research adds to the body of evidence suggesting that curcumin is an effective anti-depressive agent.
Curcumin appears to protect against epilepsy and cognitive dysfunction
Individuals living with epilepsy suffer debilitating seizures and usually take one or more anticonvulsant medications. Even the most well-tolerated anticonvulsants are not without side effects, and epilepsy patients often endure a process of trial and error to find a pharmaceutical combination that ameliorates their symptoms. With this situation in mind, researchers at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia sought a natural compound that may be useful to individuals with status epilepticus.
According to research published in the April 2013 issue of the Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences, curcumin reduces the intensity and frequency of epileptic seizures in rats, as well as significantly reducing epilepsy-induced cognitive dysfunction and oxidative stress on the brain. Building on prior research that demonstrated the neuroprotective effect of curcumin on the brain in cerebral ischemia, the King Saud University researchers used Sprague-Dawley rats to model human seizure activity. The results of their work “suggest at a preliminary level that cur[cumin] has promising anticonvulsant and antioxidant activities against s[tatus] e[pilepticus].”
Curcumin prevents gastrointestinal-induced ulcers
The studies supporting therapeutic effects of curcumin are wide-ranging and published in a variety of journals. In an article in the January to June 2013 issue of Pharmacognosy Review, researchers from Nepal seek to summarize the effects of curcumin on the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. In this article, the researchers note that 80% of GI ulcers are due to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), 10% to the bacterium H. pylori, and roughly 10% to poor diet. Ulcers, the researchers note, are caused by “disruption of the normal balance between the corrosive effect of the gastric juice and the protective effect of the mucus on the gastric epithelial cells.”
In prior research performed at Alexandria University in Egypt, scientists demonstrated that curcumin manifests anti-ulcer activity by weakening several methods of ulceration, including gastric acid hyper-secretion, total peroxides, myeloperoxiase activity, IL-6, and apoptotic incidence. In the review cited above, the scientists confirm that curcumin has anti-ulcer capabilities, and that this natural compound does not harm important biological processes such as the synthesis of protective prostaglandin (PGE2). These findings are good news for a research community seeking anti-ulcer compounds without dangerous side effect profiles.
Curcumin can suppress cancer metastasis
A cancer diagnosis can be devastating, and chemotherapeutic agents can have drastic side effects. Researchers are seeking natural compounds that can prevent cancer, treat cancer, and reduce the spread (metastasis) of cancer within the body. In the July 2013 issue of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers from Taiwan demonstrate that curcumin has an anti-metastatic property when applied to colon cancer cell lines. The scientists believe that this ability to reduce the spread of colon cancer comes from the power of curcumin to suppress the synthesis of Sp-1, a transcription factor that is highly expressed in certain types of cancer cells. They also state that curcumin inhibits metastasis by enhancing the expression of E-cadherin, which regulates cell-to-cell adhesion. Curcumin appears to be a promising therapy for reducing cancer metastasis.
Curcumin inhibits the growth of cancer
Not only does curcumin suppress the factors that cause cancer to spread, but it also appears to have properties that inhibit the growth of tumors. In an article published in the July 2013 issue of Oncology Letters, researchers note that curcumin “exhibits anti-carcinogenic properties in various cell lines and animals.” They comment that light-activated curcumin has even more potent anti-cancer properties than curcumin alone. Specifically studying nasopharyngeal cancer, these researchers from the Zhongshan School of Medicine in China discovered that the administration of curcumin and purple light caused cancer cells to die via apoptosis, with a particularly marked effect on keratinizing carcinoma (CNE-1) cells as compared to non-keratinizing carcinoma (CNE-2) cells. The researchers conclude that the administration of curcumin and purple light may be an effective therapy for nasopharyngeal cancer.