Turmeric (Curcuma longa), a shrub related to ginger, has been traditionally used to aid digestion and liver function, relieve arthritis pain, and regulate menstruation.
Today, turmeric, also called curcumin, is used for conditions such as heartburn, stomach ulcers, and gallstones. It is also used to reduce inflammation, as well as to prevent and treat cancer.
Preliminary findings from animal and laboratory studies suggest that a chemical found in turmeric—called curcumin—may have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antioxidant properties, but these findings have not been confirmed in people.
NCCAM-funded investigators have studied the active chemicals in turmeric and their effects—particularly anti-inflammatory effects—in human cells to better understand how turmeric might be used for health purposes. NCCAM is also funding basic research studies on the potential role of turmeric in preventing acute respiratory distress syndrome, liver cancer, and post-menopausal osteoporosis.
Turmeric has a peppery, warm and bitter flavor and a mild fragrance slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger, and while it is best known as one of the ingredients used to make curry, it also gives ballpark mustard its bright yellow color.
Several studies indicate that curcumin slows the development and growth of a number of types of cancer cells. In Japan this year researchers defined curcumin as a broad-spectrum anti-cancer agent. Its induction of "detoxifying enzymes," the researchers say, indicate its "potential value ... as a protective agent against chemical carcinogenesis and other forms of electrophilic toxicity. The significance of these results can be implicated in relation to cancer chemopreventive effects of curcumin against the induction of tumors in various target organs."
- In numerous studies, curcumin's anti-inflammatory effects have been shown to be comparable to the potent drugs hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone as well as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory agents such as Motrin.
- Unlike the drugs, which are associated with significant toxic effects (ulcer formation, decreased white blood cell count, intestinal bleeding), curcumin produces no toxicity.
- Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine as a remedy for rheumatoid arthritis.
- Validating this longheld tradition, a 2006 study at the UA College of Medicine found that turmeric does indeed work as an anti-arthritic. In fact, the extract used in the study, which was similar to commonly available turmeric supplements, completely inhibited the onset of rheumatoid arthritis in the animal subjects.
In a recent rat study conducted to evaluate the effects of turmeric on the liver's ability to detoxify xenobiotic (toxic) chemicals, levels of two very important liver detoxification enzymes (UDP glucuronyl transferase and glutathione-S-transferase) were significantly elevated in rats fed turmeric as compared to controls. The researchers commented, "The results suggest that turmeric may increase detoxification systems in addition to its anti-oxidant properties...Turmeric used widely as a spice would probably mitigate the effects of several dietary carcinogens."
- Dietary supplementation of curcumin; PubMed
- Turmeric root; National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).
- Turmeric; WHFoods.
- Turmeric Prevents Experimental Rheumatoid Arthritis; ScienceDaily.
- Turmeric; Jacqueline Strax.
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