centuries, the root-like stem of the Curcuma longa plant has
been used to make yellow dyes and spike food with some tasty
zing. But an ever-growing mountain of evidence shows that
boldly colored turmeric with its earthy, bitter-gingery taste
may offer a plethora of potential health benefits.
studies ó most originating in India, Europe and Australia
ó show that turmeric, and especially its color-rich
constituent of curcumin, can help prevent or treat a wide
spectrum of cancers, inflammatory conditions, autoimmune
problems, neurological ailments including Alzheimerís
disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and diabetes
neuropathy, among other metabolic diseases.
in turmeric and curcumin began decades ago when researchers
began asking why India has some of the lowest rates of
colorectal, prostate and lung cancer in the world, compared
with the United States, whose rates are up to 13 times higher.
They traced Indiaís advantages largely to its diet staple of
curry powder, which is a combination of spices, with turmeric
as a main ingredient.
review published in the journal Molecules said studies to date
"suggest that chronic inflammation, oxidative stress and
most chronic diseases are closely linked, and that antioxidant
properties of curcumin can play a key role in the prevention
and treatment of chronic inflammation diseases."
Anderson Cancer Center review of curcumin research, in the
journal Phytotherapy Research in 2014, found that it regulates
inflammation that "plays a major role in most chronic
illnesses, including neurodegenerative, cardiovascular,
pulmonary, metabolic, autoimmune and neoplastic
another M.D. Anderson study found that curcumin exhibits
"antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral,
antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities,"
all bolstering its "potential against various malignant
diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimerís
disease and other chronic illnesses."
are no guarantees that turmeric or its active ingredient of
curcumin will work for everyone. Researchers also caution that
they may delay but not prevent, or slow down but not stop, a
Curcuma longa plant is a member of the ginger family. Curcumin
makes up 3.4 percent of the turmeric root-stem or rhizome but
provides its color and many of its health benefits. Curcumin
is available only as a supplement or by eating turmeric spice.
confuse curcumin with cumin, which is a spicy seed or spice
powder made from the seed and another common ingredient in
curry with its own healthful properties. Cumin is unrelated to
turmeric or the similar-sounding curcumin.
Groupís Kitchen Audit, conducted every three years, shows
that a steady 40 percent of American kitchens since 2008 have
had curry "on hand," with turmeric showing a slow
but steady rise in popularity by being available in 28 percent
of American kitchens in 2008, 30 percent in 2011 and 33
percent in 2014.
Iíve learned, is often used as a substitute for curry, which
could account for curry powder not increasing in household
penetration," NPD Group spokeswoman Kim McLynn said.
cascade of research about the healthful qualities of turmeric,
curcumin and curry havenít been lost on two Pittsburgh
Maroon, the noted University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
neurosurgeon, says he uses curcumin supplements as part of his
health regimen as an ultra-marathon runner. He also recommends
the use of curcumin and fish oil to his patients with pain and
inflammation from degenerative conditions of the spine, neck
and lower back. He said 17,000 Americans die each year from
over-the-counter, nonsteroidal pain medications.
lead author of a 2006 study, "Natural anti-inflammatory
agents for pain relief in athletes," that concludes that
"Curcuminís therapeutic effects are considered
comparable to pharmaceutical nonsteroidal medications ... but
with a major difference in that this compound is relatively
nontoxic and free of side effects."
Maroon said his patients "would much rather have a
natural approach to reducing inflammation and pain than a
prescription of nonsteroidal pain killers and their potential
risks. There is no question about the benefits. I take it
every day and use curry in my cooking, although I tolerate
capsules better than the curry."
recommends people consume 500 to 1,000 milligrams supplement
of curcumin a day, with daily doses not exceeding 2,000
milligrams. A teaspoon of turmeric contains about 200
milligrams of curcumin. Some health advocates recommend
consuming turmeric rather than a curcumin supplement because
other compounds in turmeric offer their own health advantages.
influences 700 genes, including ones that inhibit activation
of the COX 2 gene, which produces an enzyme by the same name
that causes pain and inflammation, Dr. Maroon said.
similar to drugs but with none of the side effects of
drugs," he said. While studies have found no notable side
effects, possible drug interactions should be discussed with
oneís physician. Ingesting black pepper and ginger along
with the curcumin improve the biological breakdown of turmeric
compounds so they can be absorbed into the blood.
a research database maintained by the National Institutes of
Health, lists 7,728 studies involving curcumin and another
3,205 studies involving turmeric, with the large majority
focused on their effectiveness against multiple medical
is a lot of research. But still, much of American research
says thereís evidence, but no proof of direct benefits, of
turmeric or curcumin," Dr. Maroon said. "But Iíve
yet to read a negative study on curcumin or that it was not
clinical trials, necessary to prove the spiceís direct
health benefits, are few because such trials are expensive and
natural compounds canít be patented. That helps explain why
some researchers are working to identify the spiceís precise
biological mechanisms that could be synthesized, emboldened
and patented, then sold as prescribed treatments for multiple
Bandyopadhyay, a research assistant professor at University of
Texas Pan-American, is working to synthesize the properties in
curcumin because, he said, "curcumin has
all diseases and almost all cancers it shows very good
effects," he said. "The negative effect is its
viability" ó the fact its healthful compounds arenít
readily broken down and absorbed into the blood.
have synthesized compounds that are anti-cancerous (in
laboratory studies)," but these must be tested in
expensive human clinical trials. The alternative is to consume
curcumin along with ginger root, chili extract and black
pepper to help make it more easily absorbed by the body, and
realize the synergistic effects it has with other spices, he
research instructor at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer
Institute at the Hillman Cancer Center said studies including
his own show "strong evidence toward the therapeutic
potential of curcumin, while identifying the plethora of
biological targets and intricate mechanisms of action that
characterize curcumin as a potential drug for numerous
can kill tumor cells but not normal cells," said
Raghvendra M. Srivastava, whose study years ago explained how
curcumin enhanced T cells in the immune system. Studies also
have shown that it blocks various inflammatory pathways, with
inflammation playing an important role in most cancers. There
are even potential benefits, he said, for people with multiple
line, he said, "Consuming more curcumin is a