Curcumin is the active ingredient found in turmeric. It gives this spice the distinct bright yellow/orange color and pungent flavor many of us enjoy in curry. Turmeric is related to ginger and both have been gaining a lot of attention lately as more and more studies reveal their powerful medicinal benefits. Curcumin acts as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, and anticancer compound that may treat and prevent many major diseases we face today.
Curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties reduce oxidative stress and inflammation that damage the arteries and heat. It lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels and prevents plaque buildup in the arteries. This also has a beneficial effect on blood pressure.
Curcumin causes apoptosis in cancer cells. Apoptosis is the natural cellular death that cells undergo when damaged, old, or malfunctioning. Cancer cells are dangerous because they ignore these triggers and continue growing unchecked, but curcumin convinces them to self-destruct. On top of this, curcumin prevents the formation of the blood vessels that feed tumors. The antioxidant properties of curcumin also help prevent the formation of cancer by neutralizing many carcinogens and free radicals that cause the cellular damage that can spawn cancer to begin with.
Curcumin is gaining interest in combatting many of the problems associated with Alzheimer’s. It protects the brain, like the heart, from oxidative stress and inflammation. Curcumin also stimulates macrophages, the disposal units of the body, to break up and remove amyloid plaque, a major contributor to Alzheimer’s.
Curcumin is one of the most potent anti-inflammatories found in nature. It and ginger seem to compete with over the counter painkillers for effectiveness. Curcumin reduces the COX-2 enzyme responsible for pain and inflammation response in the joints and body associated with arthritis.
Curcumin may act like an antidepressant by blocking an enzyme that breaks down dopamine. This keeps the euphoric neurotransmitter around longer. Combining it with black pepper increases these antidepressant effects. Pairing it with a healthy fat like olive oil or coconut oil will also increase absorbability.
Turmeric, and thus curcumin, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to treat a multitude of illnesses and conditions. It is used topically to treat wounds, infections, and skin conditions and internally to treat lung disorders, food poisoning, parasites, circulation problems, infection, and much more.
Side effects for turmeric are rare and mild, especially when used as a spice in food. Large medicinal doses (more than used in food) are not recommended for pregnant women. Large doses should also not be used when breastfeeding as no studies have been done on its safety. Very large doses can cause some stomach discomfort, diarrhea, and nausea.
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