Here’s a great idea for the next Indiana Jones movie that could also help to save your life.
Indy is barreling through India, fighting his way from Calcutta to New Delhi, fending off poachers and thieves who are trying to rob him of a valuable golden powder that is reputed to have ancient healing powers.
Our hero manages to stash his treasure in an ancient recess deep in the Taj Mahal, only to have it discovered by tourists who think it is powdered gold.
After convincing them that the satchel contains poor man’s saffron, Indy delivers his treasure to a local medicine man who uses it to cure an entire village.
Seem far-fetched? Perhaps, but only the Indiana Jones part!
It turns out that there actually IS a golden spice that used to be considered a less expensive version of saffron, but is now heralded as “Indian gold,” due to its amazing proven healing powers for conditions such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and possibly even cancer. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3iMjyEZ3zA]
An Indian Culinary Staple…
The herb turmeric is related to another health-enhancing spice: ginger.
Ginger has a long culinary history and can be traced as far back as 1280, when Marco Polo saw it in China and compared it (at least in color) to saffron.
However, turmeric is more commonly associated with India, where it flavors nearly every Indian dish. Curcuma longa is the most common type of turmeric grown in India. It is used in curries, prepared mustard, and even as a food preservative.
Like saffron, turmeric has a distinctive yellow color. But, unlike saffron, turmeric has powerful healing properties, thanks to the power of curcumin.
Curcumin is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory compound found in turmeric and is responsible for the lauded medicinal virtue of the spice.
In fact, curcumin has been attributed to healing a wide variety of health conditions, ranging from cancer and pain relief to Alzheimer’s.
But do the studies back up the claims? Let’s take a look.
A Potent Anti-inflammatory…
Curcumin is widely accepted as a potent anti-inflammatory. In fact, one review of curcumin studies found that it is not only safe and non-toxic, but also very effective at reducing inflammation.1
Researchers also found that curcumin works by inhibiting several different molecules that are involved in inflammation,1 including:
- nitric oxide,
- interferon-inducible protein,
- tumor necrosis factor (TNF), and
- interleukin-12 (IL-12).
Sure, that’s a long and impressive list, but what does it mean exactly? It means curcumin reduces inflammation. But how well does it do this?
According to a gold standard study, pretty darn well.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study,2 45 post-surgery patients between the ages of 15 and 68 were divided into three groups. Three times a day for six days, the first group took 400 mg of curcumin. The second group took 100 mg of phenylbutazone (a popular NSAID), and the third group got a placebo.
At the end of the six days, those taking the curcumin and the NSAID enjoyed a significantly better anti-inflammatory response than placebo. Or, to put it simply, the spice worked as well as the drug, but without the nasty side effects.
You gotta love that!
An Incredible Pain Reliever…
As the study above shows, one obvious benefit of reducing inflammation is pain relief, and this is proven again in another double-blind crossover study.3
This time, rheumatoid arthritis patients were given either 1,200 mg of curcumin or 300 mg of phenylbutazone (the same NSAID as the earlier study) every day.
At the end of the study period, both groups had significant improvements in morning stiffness, walking time, and joint swelling.
And, once again, the curcumin was well tolerated and showed no adverse side effects.
We get it – curcumin reduces inflammation and eases pain equally as well as a common prescription drug. But what does this have to do with Alzheimer’s disease?
Funny you should ask…
Looking For A Way to Kick Alzheimer’s?…
In 2008, researchers hypothesized that inflammation may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, it stood to reason that anti-inflammatory NSAIDs should help in the prevention or even treatment of the disease.
To test this theory, they developed the Alzheimer’s Disease Anti-Inflammatory Prevention Trial, or ADAPT.4 More than 2,500 patients enrolled in this randomized, placebo-controlled study.
They were divided into three groups, with the first group receiving 200 mg of celocoxib (Celebrex) twice a day. The second group received 220 mg of naproxen twice a day, and the third group received a placebo.
The study was to last for seven years, but only four years after it began the researchers terminated the study due to safety concerns related to naproxen.
While they found that the NSAIDs did result (to date) in a 30 percent reduction in Alzheimer’s among those patients taking them, they determined that the drug’s side effects (such as gastrointestinal bleeding and liver and kidney damage) weren’t worth the risk. We agree.
Given this, some clever researchers at UCLA were intrigued by the idea that anti-inflammatory drugs seemed to reduce Alzheimer’s disease. So, aiming to sidestep the dangers of NSAIDs, they decided to see if a natural anti-inflammatory could produce the same results.5
Researchers tested both a low-dose and a high-dose of curcumin on mice with Alzheimer-like pathology to see if the spice would reduce inflammation, oxidative damage, and plaque pathology.
They determined that curcumin significantly lowered several inflammation markers, in addition to reducing plaque on the brain (a sign of Alzheimer’s) by 43 to 50 percent.
They concluded that curcumin “shows promise for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.”
We think it does too, and without the dangerous side effects of NSAIDs.
However, what we’d really like to see is a gold standard human study that tests the effects of curcumin on Alzheimer’s disease. But this is a good start.
A Way to Derail Cancer?
Staying on the inflammation/disease train, researchers have also wondered if curcumin could be effective in preventing yet another inflammation-related disease: Cancer.
According to an extensive literature review conducted by researchers at the esteemed M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, curcumin has “enormous” potential to prevent and treat cancer.6 Their review found that curcumin was able to suppress tumor formation, growth, and even metastasis.
This is great. We love it when people do our work for us and review studies on our behalf. But it’s not enough; we still want to look at some of those specific studies.
Combined hormone therapy containing both estrogen and progestin (sometimes referred to as MPA) has been shown to increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer (among other things).7 In one animal study,8 researchers used this premise to determine whether curcumin could block the growth of induced, MPA-accelerated tumors in rats.
The rats were given the tumor induction on the first day of a 52-day trial. On day 30, the rats were given time-released pellets containing the estrogen/progestin combo. Researchers started the curcumin therapy in days 26 to 50.
Researchers found that the curcumin delayed tumor growth, as well as other tissue changes normally seen in breast tissue exposed to the hormone therapy.
They concluded that curcumin should be tested in women already exposed to combined hormone therapy in an effort to “decrease or delay the risk of breast cancer associated with combined HT.”
This is a very promising study, and we too would like to see the results from human trials.
Now for the men.
In a second animal study,9 researchers artificially induced prostate cancer in mice, and then gave them either curcumin, chemotherapy (gemcitabine), radiation, or a placebo treatment. They found that curcumin helped to control the progression of the cancer.
Again, this is great news…for mice.
We’d like to see more human trials, though we understand that it is very difficult for researchers to find funding for gold standard studies on natural, un-trademarkable substances.
Especially for cancer.
Where to Find Your Indian Gold…
One of the easiest ways to enjoy all of the therapeutic benefits of curcumin is to use turmeric in cooking.
However, don’t confuse turmeric with curry powder. While both are yellow spices often used in Indian cuisine, curry is actually a blend of spices, only one of which is turmeric. You want the straight stuff…just turmeric.
Then you can go to town. Use it on any protein dish: fish, meat, or chicken. It also tastes fantastic mixed with lentils and garbanzo beans.
But don’t stop there. You can add turmeric to vegetables, rice, potatoes, and soups. Experiment and enjoy. The result will be delicious AND healthy.
If you are looking for a more concentrated health hit, you can also opt for curcumin supplements. The recommended dose is 450–600 mg per day. Just be sure to take it with a healthy fat, such as coconut oil or olive oil, to increase absorption.
And, as with all supplements, look for a product that is free from preservatives, fillers, binders, excipients, flow agents, shellacs, coloring agents, gluten, yeast, lactose, and other allergens. Ideally, you’ll also be able to find independent analysis done by a third party to verify the active ingredients and identify any contaminants.
Whether you choose to get cooking or rely on supplementation, turmeric and its powerful ally, curcumin, truly is worth its weight in gold.
1Chainani-Wu, N. Safety and anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin: a component of turmeric (Curcuma longa). J. Altern. Complement. Med. 2003 Feb; 9(1):161-8.
2Satoskar, RR, et al. Evaluation of anti-inflammatory property of curcumin (diferuloyl methane) in patients with postoperative inflammation. Int. J Clin Pharmacol Ther Toxicol. 1986 Dec;24(12):651-4.
3Deodhar, SD, et al. Preliminary study of antirheumatic activity of curcumin (diferuloyl methane). Indian Journal of Medical Research. 1980; 71:632-4.
4Martin, BK, et al. Cognitive function over time in the Alzheimer’s Disease Anti-inflammatory Prevention Trial (ADAPT); results of a randomized, controlled trial of naproxen and celecoxib. Arch. Neurol. 2008; 65(7):896-905.
5Lim, GP, et al. The curry spice curcumin reduces oxidative damage and amyloid pathology in an Alzheimer transgenic mouse. J. Neurosci. 2001 Nov 1; 21(21):8370-7.
6Aggarwal, BB et al. Anticancer Potential of Curcumin: Preclinical and Clinical Studies. Anticancer Research. 2003; 23:363-98.
7Writing group for the Women’s Health Initiative Investigators. Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women. JAMA. 2002 July 17; 288(3):321-33.
8Carroll, CE, et al. Curcumin delays development of medroxyprogesterone acetate-accelerated 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene-induced mammary tumors. Menopause. 2010 Jan–Feb; 17(1):178-84.
9Li, M. et al. Curcumin, a dietary component, has anticancer, chemosensitization, and radiosensitization effects by down-regulating the MDM2 oncogene through the PI3K/mTOR/ETS2 pathway. Cancer Res. 2007; 67(5):1988–96.