Updated: Jul 16, 2020
When I was a teenager, I had quite problematic skin; and there was no facial mask that I had not tried. In one of my many attempts to get rid of acne, I discovered a plant called turmeric. Following the advice from a beauty-blogger Promise Tamang, I used turmeric to prepare a mask, and to my relief, it visibly reduced the inflammation on my skin.
Because I didn't know anything about the plant before discovering its face mask magic, I decided to do some research. I was surprised by the amount of interest in turmeric expressed by the science community. Turmeric appeared to be a new hope for treating numerous different diseases and has become especially popular as a food supplement.
Dear readers, we present to you turmeric and its benefits:
Turmeric is a plant of the ginger family that originated from Indian among other countries in South-East Asia.
Turmeric can be consumed in its fresh form, or it can be boiled, dried and ground into a deep orange-yellow powder. This powder can be added to food (mainly curry), to dye fabric or to make medicine.
Turmeric in medicine
Doctors in India have been using turmeric as a treatment for respiratory problems Since the ancient times. More recently, its application tickled the fascination of the science community and scientist began to explore the potential of turmeric as a food supplement to treat a whole range of diseases.
What makes turmeric so promising are the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of one of its core components: curcumin. Curcumin has been touted as a superfood in the nutraceutical industry.
These days, articles with headings like “Turmeric cures cancer!” or “Turmeric reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease” are popping up all over the news and social media every month, if not more frequently.
A number of research groups in the world have proven that curcumin could have a positive effect on patients suffering from depression, arthritis and some forms of cancer.
However, newspapers and magazines should not be trusted unconditionally. It is well know that the media tends to present just a fragment of information from entire scientific publications, therefore misleading their readers.
In the case of curcumin and its benefits, articles rarely mentioned that the majority of experiments have been conducted on laboratory animals. The lack of human studies impedes a firm conclusion that turmeric is actually an effective and safe remedy for most human diseases.
Curcumin and Alzheimer’s disease
The number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is increasing at a concerning rate. The need to find an effective cure for the symptoms of the disease is urgent.
The main symptoms of AD are memory loss, mental decline and a range of behavioural and mood abnormalities. The pathophysiology, or cause, of the symptoms are aggregations of mutated insoluble proteins that could be found on the outside of the neurons (beta-amyloid plaques) and inside the neurons (tau tangles). These aggregates are believed to be toxic for neurons, and consequently lead to the death of neuronal tissue.
In 2017, findings of an extensive research project revealed that curcumin destroys beta-amyloid plaques and tau protein tangles in the brain. Additionally, it was proven that curcumin reduces the amount of cholesterol in the blood and inflammation of the nervous tissue in the brain. (1)
Curcumin was proven to protect nerve cells from their destruction, and has thus become a promising treatment for Alzheimer disease.
Why have we not heard about a potential pill to fight Alzheimer’s disease?
The biggest problem that impedes the intervention of a turmeric-based super-pill for AD is the low bioavailability of curcumin: curcumin constitutes merely 3% of turmeric.
This means, you would have to eat at least 273 portions of curry to receive a therapeutic dose of curcumin.
The second biggest problem is that curcumin forms glucuronides that are absorbed by the liver and intestine. As a result, very little volume of curcumin reaches the bloodstream.
Another factor that hinders the development of a pill against the disease is the inability of the curcumin molecule to pass through the blood-brain barrier. Hence, curcumin cannot be supplied to the nerve tissue through the circulation.
However, there is good news! In many, countries bioengineers are trying to develop the ideal courier that would transport curcumin to the brain using varied materials, including nanoparticles.
Curcumin as a bio-supplement
Curcumin is an extremely healthy bio-supplement that has an undeniable positive effect on reducing inflammation in the body. The quality of life has improved for people with diseases like kidney problems when they added curcumin as a bio-supplement to their diet. (4)
The recommended dosage of curcumin as a food supplement, according to the WHO, is 3 milligrams per kilogram of your body weight.
Although negative side-effects caused by the consumption of curcumin like a bio-supplement have not been registered, please consult your GP before adding it into your nutrition habits.
To conclude, we would like to glorify the nature that gifted us so many incredible plants that are beneficial to our health. Turmeric is one of just many of such plants. We use camomile to reduce inflammation, mint tea for relaxation, raspberry jam to reduce a fever in cases of a cold or flu, and more!
(1) Tang et al., 2017, The Mechanisms of Action of Curcumin in Alzheimer’s Disease
(2) Amalraj et al., 2016 Biological Activities of Curcuminoids, Other Biomolecules from Turmeric and Their Derivatives - A Review;
(3) Belcaro et al., 2010 Efficacy and Safety of Meriva®️, a Curcumin-Phosphatidylcholine Complex, During Extended Administration in Osteoarthritis Patients;
(4) Pakfertrak et al., 2014 Effects of Turmeric on Uremic Pruritus in End-Stage Renal Disease Patients: A Double-Blind Randomized Clinical Trial)