India’s traditional Ayurvedic medicine has a high regard for turmeric. It was a symbol of prosperity, hence its nicknames “Indian gold,” “golden spice” or the “Queen of Herbs.”
The turmeric benefits, however, never really caught the attention of modern scientists until around the early 1980s.
Since then, research activity into curcumin, the principal curcuminoid of turmeric, is on full gear.
A search on Pub Med database lists nearly 4000 results to date! Still doubting that there is any real science to support the curcumin story?
Turmeric Benefits Your Liver
As a detoxifying organ, your liver is bombarded with countless toxin threats daily (courtesy of modernization, including prescription drugs).
Thus, it’s only natural that is protected by a host of immune armies and antioxidants in every corner!
However, it’s not invincible either; it CAN still breakdown.
If you wait until the day when your liver decides to take a day off, then it’ll be too late―you’ll never see the next daybreak again!
So how does turmeric benefit your liver? Like the king of bitters, it stimulates liver regeneration.
Turmeric & Hepaprotective Research
Why do you think our immune system is highly suppressed after a surgery? The answer is plain and simple: infection. Our system can be infected from an outside source, and also from the inside, i.e. blood infection.
Now for researchers to test (in vivo) the liver’s protective capability against infection, one way is to use surgical procedures. Another way is … expose it to toxins!
A group of rats underwent a liver surgery removing part of the liver, with simultaneous cecal ligation and puncture (another surgical procedure) to simulate a polymicrobial infection.
They were then randomised to five groups: no treatment; G-CSF (special type of protein that stimulates the bone marrow to make white blood cells); Epo (erythropoietin, a hormone that promotes formation of red blood cells); each alone or in combination with curcumin.
Twenty four hours after surgery, blood and tissue samples were collected.
Markers of liver regeneration, function, and hepatocellular damage were determined.
The German researchers found that that G-CSF or Epo alone did not improve liver regeneration.
However, the combination of Epo and curcumin “showed a synergistic effect with highly significant stimulation of liver regeneration. This was accompanied by reduced oxidative stress”.
The results were published in the 2008 Langenbeck’s Archives of Surgeryjournal. (link) Talk about turmeric benefits. We are getting off to a good start here.
One of the most potent hepatoxins (toxic to the liver) used in scientific research to evaluate hepatoprotective agents is carbon tetrachloride (CCl4). This study is to test the protective effect of curcumin in rat CCl4-induced liver injury.
Scientists from the Wonkwang University, South Korea, injected CCl4 into a group of rats after 4 consecutive days of curcumin treatment inducing an acute liver damage. Subacute liver toxicity was induced by oral administration of CCl4, twice a week during 4 weeks of curcumin treatment.
To cut a long story short, I’ll take you straight to the results … “it was concluded that curcumin improved both acute and subacute liver injury induced by carbon tetrachloride in rats”. (link)
In another study, this time researchers at the First Military Medical University, Guangzhou, China use not only CCl4 but also D-Gal N and BCG+LPS (forget about memorizing them; just regard them as “liver slayers”) to induce liver injury in rats.
The results again have shown curcumin, on its own, too have protective/regenerating effects against hepatoxin-induced liver damage.
In a Nutshell
These animal studies show that turmeric does indeed benefit the liver. Like milk thistle, turmeric can protect the liver from the damaging effects of potent toxins, and this includes alcohol.
As human studies are still lacking in this area, you might wonder if turmeric can really benefit us. Take this into consideration … the herb has been used for thousands of years as a liver herb―not on rats, but on us. Think about it.
Turmeric Boosts Gut Immunity
Are you aware that around 70% of your immune system is located in the gut. Here’s a quick refresher course before we dive in.
What are Immunoglobulins
There are four types of antibodies or immunoglobulins (but I call them rockets): IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG and IgM, made by our immune plasma/B-cells.
Zooming about in between cells, these Y-shaped rockets recognize a unique part of an antigen (anything “non-self”).
Each tip of the Y antibody contains a lock structure that is specific for one particular type of key on an antigen. Oh, don’t you worry, the number of specific locks produced are more than you can imagine!
When the Y rocket “locks on” to a target, the antigen is tagged for destruction by other parts of the immune system, or it can also neutralize the target directly.
Among all the rockets, IgA is the highest in production; and they accumulate most abundantly in the intestinal lumen.
Other areas include the respiratory tract and urogenital tract. They are also found in saliva, tears, and breast milk.
Ok, let’s get back to our “turmeric benefit” study.
Year 2010 …
The scientists at the Fuji Women’s University, Ishikari, Japan did two “curcumin” experiments. In the first, rats were fed a high-fat diet (30% beef tallow) with or without several polyphenols including curcumin, rutin, catechin, ellagic acid and quercetin at the level of 0.5%.
Curcumin tops the list of polyphenols; it “markedly elevated the level of IgA in feces and colon contents”.
Now, to test if curcumin is a magnet for high-fat or low-fat diet, the scientists did a second experiment. Rats were fed a high-fat diet or a low-fat diet (5% beef tallow) with or without 0.5% curcumin.
Fecal level of IgA was higher in the high-fat diet group than in the low-fat diet group. (link)
Questions to Ponder
Why does curcumin have an affinity with high-fat diet? Is there “something” in a high-fat diet that curcumin is trying to “protect” the host from? Think about it.
A really cool turmeric benefit, I must say.
Turmeric Benefits Your Lungs Too!
Curcumin is a potent antioxidant. Besides actively scavenging free radicals, it also inhibits pro-inflammatory mediators.
This makes it a safer potential therapeutic agent than synthetic steroid medicine against inflammation of the lungs.
In the 2007 Journal of Experimental Medicine and Biology researchers reported that existing steroidal drugs have not been shown to be effective in the treatment of lung conditions resulting from occupational and environmental exposures to air pollutants.
Chronic lung injury and fibrosis can also be caused (as a side effect) by radiation, chemotherapy, and certain drugs and intoxicants.
Turmeric & Pulmonary Fibrosis Research
Fibrosis is the formation of scar tissue due to injury or long-term inflammation. There are two main types of fibrosis: pulmonary and cystic fibrosis. Here we’ll study the effects of turmeric on the former.
Pulmonary fibrosis involves the overgrowth, hardening, and/or scarring of lung tissue due to excess collagen. You can refer to collagen as the “gluey” protein that holds your body parts together. Without it, the body would, quite literally, fall apart!
In 2010, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Centre are testing curcumin’s usefulness in preventing radiation-induced pneumonopathy and lung tumor regression.
Curcumin, already a known chemopreventive and antioxidant agent, has “tumor cell radiosensitizing” properties. In layman’s terms … “that makes tumor cells more sensitive to radiation therapy”.
Mice injected with Lewis lung carcinoma (LLC) cells were given 1% or 5% (w/w) dietary curcumin or control diet prior to irradiation and for the duration of the experiment.
Lungs were evaluated at 3 weeks after irradiation for acute lung injury and inflammation; and at 4 months for pulmonary fibrosis.
The results …
The 5% dietary curcumin significantly improved survival of mice after irradiation, and decreased radiation-induced lung fibrosis.
Curcumin also boosted antioxidant defenses against LLC cells by increasing heme oxygenase 1 (HO-1) levels; and blocked the production of radiation-induced free radicals.
Way to go! Wait, there’s more.
Most importantly … this is the interesting part … dietary curcumin did not spare LLC, the cancer cells, the ordeal of being bumped off by radiation. (link)
In a Nutshell
Positive results from several other animal studies also show protective effects of curcumin against CCl4- (yes, this culprit again!); amiodarone- (a drug to treat irregular heart beat); and bleomycin- (a type of cancer drug) induced pulmonary fibrosis.
The bottom line … curcumin’s therapeutic action is on the prevention cum regulation of inflammation and oxidative stress. Talking about anti-oxidants, you might be interested to know what makes a good antioxidant formula (with turmeric as one of the ingredients of course).
Next is a related turmeric benefit, but the focus now is on your joints.
Turmeric Benefits Your “Burning” Joints
Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term disease that leads to inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues. It can also affect other organs.
A typical animal model of rheumatoid arthritis, SCW-induced arthritis, is used in this study which is published in the 2006 Journal of Natural Products.
Over a 28 day course, model rats develop an initial acute phase of joint swelling followed by a chronic phase of inflammation that is associated with actual joint destruction.
The results of the study revealed an interesting turmeric benefit:
The purified turmeric extract (providing greater than 90% curcuminoids, go for 95%) was more potent than the less purified form (less than 50% curcuminoids) in preventing arthritis. The purified curcuminoid treatment greatly inhibited joint inflammation in its tracks in both the acute and chronic phases.
The positive results of these studies have provided “compelling evidence to support further clinical testing of curcuminoid-containing turmeric dietary supplements for the prevention of rheumatoid arthritis or RA flares”. (link)
In a Nutshell
While curcumin may be a potent anti-arthritis nutrient, let’s not forget there are other active flavonoids that when used together becomes more potent because of the synergy they create.
Turmeric benefits are comparable to some very potent painkillers, e.g. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) in terms of dousing the “fire;” but with a Big difference―turmeric is safe, and is free from the serious drug-induced side effects.
If there is a concern over the bio-availability of turmeric, consider the case resolved. Both bromelain (enzyme from pineapple plant) and piperine (black pepper extract) are added to enhance digestion―a classic combination of standardized extracts that work superbly well together.
Alright, I guess we have more than enough of turmeric benefits for now. There is actually one more health benefit that I’d like to add … perhaps another day. I’m saving the “best” for last…