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Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an Indian spice that impart a yellow color to food.  Curcumin is its active ingredient composing roughly 3% of turmeric.  Turmeric is a major ingredient of curry and an important Indian spice.  Hundreds of animal studies and human cancer cell culture studies with curcumin have found beneficial effects protecting against toxins and cancer.  India does have a surprisingly low level of liver cancer and other cancers and some have attributed this effect to curcumin, but no epidemiologic studies have investigated the issue.  Unfortunately, only a couple human studies have been done.  It's pretty boring to read all of the cell culture and test-tube studies.  There is a definite need for human epidemiologic and controlled study research.

An animal study from Yale suggest it might help cystic fibrosis (Science. 2004 Apr 23;304(5670):600-2).  It is being researched for Alzheimer's disease.  Curcumin has strong anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  It is mentioned in research as possibly beneficial for many other diseases.  Epidemiologic research in Indian would give the best answers whether it is of much value, since many Indians have gotten away from the traditional diet in varying degrees.  India provides a natural human experiment and might show that curcumin is a valuable health benefit.

My Curcumin Recommendation: Curcumin is already being sold in health food stores in capsules. Buying curcumin in capsules is expensive and wasteful, i.e. $11 for 30 capsules totaling just 10-15 grams. Buying tumeric in bulk from a grocery store is much, much cheaper, i.e. $.45/oz. in Urbana, IL or 15 cents for the amount in $11 in capsules.  I don't know if curcumin has a health value, but if you decide to do it, my recommended daily intake is 1 g/day costing 2 cents per day, a very reasonable expenditure. 1 g = 1/3 tsp. I personally tried adding it to my diet, but it caused diarrhea, so I stopped.  I am sure that most people would not get this reaction.  I currently favor simply using curry in the cooking at least once a week.

Human Studies

Alzheimer's: Curry Consumption Linked to Less Dementia: In a population-based cohort (n = 1,010) of nondemented Asians ages 60-93, Mini-Mental State Examination scores found that those who consumed curry "occasionally" and "often or very often" had significantly better MMSE scores than did subjects who "never or rarely" consumed curry. Curry consumption and cognitive function in the elderly. Ng TP, et al. National University of Singapore. . Am J Epidem 2006 Nov 1;164(9):898-906.

Curcumin/Quercetin Reduce Kidney Rejection: In a 6-month DB PC study of 43 dialysis dependent cadaveric kidney, those given 480 mg of curcumin and 20 mg of quercetin, started after surgery and taken for 1 month, those given low dose (one capsule, one placebo) and high dose (two capsules). Delayed graft function occurred in 14% of controls, but none on curcumin/quercetin. Early graft function was controls 43%, low dose 71% and high dose 93% (P=0.013). Serum creatinine was significantly lower at 2 days (control 7.6, low 5.4, high 4.0; P=0.0001) and 30 days (control 1.82, low 1.65, high 1.33, P=0.03). Acute rejection incidence within 6 months was control 14.3%, low dose 14.3% and high dose 0%. Tremor was detected in 13% of high dose patients vs. 46% of others. Beneficial effects of the bioflavonoids curcumin and quercetin on early function in cadaveric renal transplantation: a randomized placebo controlled trial. Shoskes D, et al. Cleveland Clinic, Florida. Transplantation 2005 Dec 15;80(11):1556-9.

Turmeric Reported Decreased Precancerous Oral Lesions: 1 g/d for 9 months decreased the lesions in humans. Indian J Med Res ’98;108:167; Curcumin is active ingredient of rhizome of turmeric plant. Curcumin in diet decreases colon cancer in rats. Cancer Res ’95;55:259. Numerous animal studies showing benefits against various skin, stomach, breast, and other cancers. Works in vitro against human leukemia. Curcumin ointment helped reduce symptoms and in 10% of patients the size of skin cancers in humans. Rural Indians consumed 0.6 g/day. Up to 2 g/d no toxicity for rats, monkeys, guinea pigs, rabbits for 1-3 months. It influences blood lipids, is used in ayurvedic medicine to treat contusions, sprains, bruises. It is antimutagenic and a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Popular in skin creams and tooth powders. Prevents aflatoxin production and nitrosamine formation. Inhibited excretion of urinary mutagens in smokers. Krishnaswamy, Nutr Rev 11/96;54(11 Pt 2):127. Says beneficial effect due to its anti-oxidant ability. Green leafy veg highest followed by wheat and rice in anti-oxidant. Onions and garlic also said good anti-mutagenic. Krishnaswamy, Natl Inst Nutrition, Hyderabad, Ind J Med Res 11/98;108:167

Cancer: Liver Cancer Less Common in India: Liver cancer is the 4th most common cancer death in world. 80% of liver cancer in India due to hepatitis B or C. However, altho hepatitis B and C infection rates moderately high in India, but only 1.6% cancer deaths due to liver cancer, i.e. abnormally low and without explanation. Dhir, Mumbai, Ind J Gastroent 7/98;17:100; India is a relatively low cancer country except oral cancers due to betel nut chewing. Ed: Low Liver cancer maybe due to high intake curcumin. Low rates of small and large bowel cancers and large bowel adenomas are rare. However, rectal cancer is not uncommon. Rates increase with emigration and urban diets. Curcumin is thought to play a protective role. Mohandas, Indian J Gastroent 7/99;18:118

Inflammatory Bowel: Ulcerative Colitis Improved: In a 6-month DB PC study of 89 ulcerative colitis patients on sulfasalazine or mesalamine, those on curcumin 1 g after breakfast and supper were much less likely to relapse: 5% vs. 21%. Clinical disease activity index (p=.038) and endoscopic index (p=.0001) also improved with curcumin. Curcumin Maintenance Therapy for Ulcerative Colitis: Randomized, Multicenter, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Hanai H, et al. Hamamatsu University, Japan. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2006 Nov 10.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Curcumin Tried: Curcumin was given in a very poor quality open label study to five patients with ulcerative proctitis and five with Crohn's disease. All proctitis patients improved, with reductions in concomitant medications in four, and four of five Crohn's disease patients had lowered CDAI scores and sedimentation rates. This encouraging pilot study suggests the need for double-blind placebo-controlled follow-up studies. Curcumin therapy in inflammatory bowel disease: a pilot study. Holt PR, et al. Columbia University, New York, New York. Dig Dis Sci. 2005 Nov;50(11):2191-3. Ed: Appropriately, researchers didn't suggest that their study proved anything.  It was awfully small with no controls. Improvement on objective measures is a little encouraging. 

Up to 8 g/day Used for Human Cancer: Taiwan study starting with 500 mg/d and increasing found over 8 g/day not tolerated. Given to a variety of cancer patients with 25% or so showing regression. Anticancer Res 2001 Jul-Aug;21(4B):2895-900. Ed: This appears to be an uncontrolled report of dubious quality.

Animal Studies

Alzheimer's: Helped in Animal Model: Iuprofen reduces amyloid accumulation but suppresses a surprisingly limited subset of inflammatory markers in APPsw transgenic mice. Omega-3 fatty acid DHA had a profound impact on pathogenesis but did not lower inflammation, while vitamin E was surprisingly ineffective in reducing oxidative damage or amyloid in the aged APPsw mouse. In contrast, curcumin was effective, lowering oxidative damage, cognitive deficits, synaptic marker loss, and amyloid deposition. Curcumin proved to be immunomodulatory, simultaneously inhibiting cytokine and microglial activation indices related to neurotoxicity, but increasing an index of phagocytosis. Curcumin directly targeted Abeta and was also effective in other models. NSAID and Antioxidant Prevention of Alzheimer's Disease: Lessons from In Vitro and Animal Models. Cole GM, et al. VA, North Hills, CA  Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Dec;1035:68-84.

Arthritis: Curcumin Some Help Dog Osteoarthritis in DB: 61 dogs in a DB PC 8 wee study using an extract of turmeric found investigator assessments significantly favoring turmeric, but owner assessment falling just short of statistical significance (P=0.06). Randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled parallel group study of P54FP for the treatment of dogs with osteoarthritis. Innes JF, Fuller CJ, Grover ER, Kelly AL, Burn JF. University of Liverpool. Vet Rec. 2003 Apr 12;152(15):457-60

Atherosclerosis: Curcumin Reduces Fatty Streak Damage in Rabbits: Rabbits on high cholesterol diet on curcumin diet had less damage and less oxidative stress. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2002 Jul 1;22(7):1225-31

Atherosclerosis: Curcumin Decreased in Rabbits: Curcumin blocks oxidation of LDL cholesterol which is a cause of athero in rabbit study. However, abstract suggests inconsistent results. Ramirez-Tortosa, U Granada, Atheroscl 12/99

Brain: Protects Rats from Alcohol Brain Injury/ Closed Head Trauma: By anti-ox and hypolipemic functions found protective. Phytother Res 11/99; Dietary curcumin counteracts the outcome of traumatic brain injury on oxidative stress, synaptic plasticity, and cognition. Exp Neurol 2006 Feb;197(2):309-17 

Cancer: Breast Cancer: Curcumin & Isoflavones Inhibit: Estrogen-sensitive breast cancer induced by estrogenic pesticides in vitro. Combo effective—"most potent inhibitor of growth of human breast cancer cells." Verma, Tufts, Environ Health Perspec ’98;106:807

Cancer: Curcumin & Catechin Inhibit Oral Cancer in Vitro: Both block arachidonic acid metabolism. In vitro with normal and premalignant cell cultures. Both inhibit thru separate induction pathways. Sacks, Sloan-Kettering, Proc Ann Meeting Am Assoc Cancer Res ’97;38:A1755

Cancer: Curcumin Inhibits Cancer: Curcumin inhibited AK-5 tumor growth and induced AK-5 cell apoptosis thru activation of caspase-3 and the generation of reactive oxygen intermediates. Khar, India, FEBS Letter 2/99;445:165; Curcumin also inhibits inflammatory cytokine production by monocytes and by alveolar macrophages. Abe, Tokyo, Pharmac Res 1/99;39:41; It inhibits colon cancer growth by increasing apoptysis in rats in all stages of cancer development from initiation, post-initiation, and progression (late in the premalignant) stages. Kawamori, American Health Foundation, Cancer Res 2/99;59:597. Inhib of human colon cancer cells. Blocks COX-2 inflammatory prostaglandin enzyme which is overexpressed in colon cancer. Said promising as preventive. Plummer, U Leicester, Oncogene 10/99

Depression: Curcumin Anti-Depressant Effect in Mice: With huge dose of 560 mg/kg but less at 140 mg/kg in 14 day study found effect on swim test. High dose was superior to fluoxetine. dose of 140 mg/kg or above for 14 days, significantly inhibited the monoamine oxidize A (MAO) activity in mouse whole brain at a dose-dependent manner, however, oral administration of the extract only at a dose of 560 mg/kg produced observable MAO B inhibitory activity. Antidepressant activity of aqueous extracts of Curcuma longa in mice. Yu ZF, Kong LD, Chen Y. J Ethnopharmacol 2002 Nov;83(1-2):161-5; 

Diabetes: Helped Nephropathy in Rats: Curcumin, the active principle of turmeric (Curcuma longa), ameliorates diabetic nephropathy in rats. Sharma S, et al. Panjab University, Chandigarh, India. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol 2006 Oct;33(10):940-5.

Diabetes: Curcumin Helps Diabetes Side-Effects in Mice: Oxidation causes cross-linking in collagen in diabetes with accumulation of advanced glycation end products. 200mg/kg curcumin used. India, Biochem Pharmacol 12/98;56:1607

Eye Disease: Curcumin Helps Human Uveitis: 375 mg three time a day for 12 weeks led to 100% response rate in 18 patients with 55% relapse over next 3 year. Usual treatment is steroids. Phytother Res 6/99;13:318-22.

Herpes: Curcumin, Eugenol Against Vag Herpes: Study with a mouse model looked at 19 anti-microbial plant compounds. Four helped in invitro assay topically. Bourne, U Cinn, Antiviral Res 7/99;42:219

Muscle: Curcumin Helps/Doesn't Help Muscle Injury: Muscle regeneration in vivo after trauma greatly enhanced by curcumin which is an inhibitor of transcription factor NF-kappa B. Stimulate cell proliferation and differentiation. Thaloor, Emory, Am J Physiol 8/99;277:C320-9; But the opposite results were found in Exp Physiol. 2005 Feb 22

Radiation: Curcumin, Ellagic Acid, Bixin Protect Against Radiation Damage: Mice study of whole body radiation found these protected against induction of micronuclei and chromosomal aberrations as well as vit E on a molar basis each individually. Curcumin, and ellagic acid protected bone marrow cells and lymphocytes against chromosomal aberrations as well as vit E. Tresiamma, India, J Exp Clin Cancer Res 12/98;17:431; Curcumin (diferuloyl methane) from rhizome of curcuma long Linn., a member of the ginger family. It is a nuclear transcription factor AP-1 inhibitor. In another mouse study, curcumin protected from radiation damage the glyoxylase system in liver and kidney. India, J Ethnopharm 1/99;64:1

Radiation: Curcumin Protects/Heals Mice From Skin Radiation Damage: Effect was dramatice. Should therefore protect human cancer patients receiving radiation therapy from burnsand blisters. 10/7/02 U Rochester Science Daily; Another studies found helped radiation wound healing. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2005 Feb;115(2):515-28

Ulcers: Blocks Histamine 2: Biol Pharm Bull 2005 Dec;28(12):2220-4.

Wound Healing: Curcumin Helps Wound Healing in Mice and Guinea Pigs: Faster wound closure of puncture wounds. Sidhu, Bethesda, Wound Repair Regen 3/98;6:167. Worked both orally and topically in rats and guinea pigs. Increases in Growth Factor best-1 expression with more revascularization and other changes. Sidhu, Wound Repair Regen 9/99

Curcumin on PubMed: In all, on 3/4/05 there were 1242 articles published and listed on PubMed. Almost all were animal or cell culture studies. Many showed anti-cancer effects with a very wide variety of cancers. Almost every study I read documented beneficial effects. There were also hepatoprotective effect articles, every one showing benefit. Protected rat heart against oxidative effect of adriamycin. Simultaneous administration of piperine markedly increased curcumin blood levels in animals and humans. Dietary curcumin didn’t help two chemically induced lung and breast cancers in mice possibly due to low bioavailability. Topical application did help skin cancer. However, dietary curcumin was just as effective as curcumin painted on oral pouch lesions in hamsters. Dietary curcumin helped diabetic nephropathy in mice. Curcumin completely inhibited cytokine IL-8 production which is induced by pathogenic strains of H. pylori and which is a step in causing ulcers of stomach and duodenum. Curcumin inhibits transcription factor nuclear factor Kappa-B (NF-KappaB) which is necessary for IL-8 production. Curcumin induces cell apotosis in human breast cancer cells. Curcumin was one of seven chemicals to stimulate glutathione levels (GSH) which is thought to be anti-carcinogenic. EGCG of green tea uses a different mechanism than curcumin and may be synergistic. Carcinogenesis 3/98. Capsiacin and curcumin decr paw inflam in arthritis rats. Curcumin was second only to cinnamon in inhibiting Aspergillus growth and aflatoxin production. Curcumin synergistic with Vitamin D3 and with retinoic acid against leukemia. Dietary curcumin protected against cataracts in rats. Am J Clin Nutr ’96;64:761. Three curcuminoids in turmeric. There are also synthetic ones now available. It also has a membrane stabilizing action and decreases lipid peroxidation.