Curcumin – the ultimate herb?

It is a substance with astonishing properties – it is hard to count the number of diseases for which it has been shown to work. One can get the impression that it helps almost everything. In many cases, it is simply anti-inflammatory and analgesic, but sometimes the effects are beyond our wildest expectations.

A word about anti-inflammatory action. One might be tempted to theorize that fighting inflammation may be the best thing we do for our health. Long ago, when medicine was still in its infancy, bacteria, viruses and parasites were the biggest threats to humans. With the development of sanitation and hygiene, parasites disappeared from our lives, as well as some of the more dangerous bacteria. Viruses and the remaining bacteria were eliminated with vaccinations. Fighting infections is no longer a priority; our bodies no longer need to be constantly on life support. What used to save us is now slowly killing us – high levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines are responsible for a whole range of civilization diseases. Of course, there are situations when you should aim to raise it, then probably curcumin will harm, but they are quite rare.

Let’s start with depression. The connection of this disease with the level of pro-inflammatory cytokines has been repeatedly emphasized, but unfortunately nobody is in a hurry to check whether lowering their level will be an effective treatment – therapies lowering their concentration cannot be patented too much, so there is no sponsor of research.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25046624

One of the many studies where curcumin was compared to placebo for the treatment of depression – there was a marked decrease in the severity of the illness. In other studies it was comparable to current medications.

Osteoarthritis – here we have three studies to draw on, one of them, the longest and most impactful:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21194249

It managed to reduce symptoms by more than half in eight months!

Time for heavier artillery – advanced pancreatic cancer:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18628464/

Of the 21 patients who took curcumin, 2 were able to see a response. In one, the disease stabilized, its progression was significantly slowed down, which significantly prolonged his life. In another – the tumor shrank by 73%! This was a short-term change, despite further supplementation metastases appeared, but the patient gained long months of life. Overall, the drug had no side effects and improved quite a few disease-related outcomes.

Very high doses of curcumin (up to 8 grams per day) showed a very strong protective effect against cancer development, in a group of patients with very high-risk lesions:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11712783

In a condition called familial adenomatous polyposis, patients develop polyps on the intestine, and if left untreated, the disease virtually always ends in cancer. In combination with quercetin, curcumin reduced the number of polyps and their size by half within six months:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16757216

There have been quite a few studies on ulcerative colitis, here is one of them:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17101300

Compared to the placebo group, those taking curcumin had a more than fourfold (4.41) lower risk of relapse.

Studies on Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis have had similarly good results.

Preliminary studies showed that irritable bowel symptoms were reduced by about half:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15673996

There have been other studies with positive results, but they examined the concentration of pro-inflammatory substances or changes in bowel imaging, which doesn’t tell patients much, which is why I chose this example.

Also, a preliminary study on patients with rheumatoid arthritis showed very strong effects – stronger than diclofenac, with curcumin being much safer:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22407780

Chronic uveitis, an inflammation of the eyes that can lead to blindness, was treated with curcumin to a degree comparable to corticosteroid therapy, but without the side effects of the latter:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10404539

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21060672

One of many studies in gastric and duodenal ulcer disease:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11485087

To summarize all the studies, in a nutshell – the therapy had very good effects in terms of improving well-being and even eliminating ulceration, but had virtually no effect on helicobacter bacteria.

In diabetic nephropathy, the therapy improved laboratory results, and from those perceived by the patient – eliminated proteinuria:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21627399

There were also many clinical trials for diabetes, but they gave mixed results – sometimes the improvement was very large, in other cases no difference could be observed. It is tentatively thought that curcumin can reduce disease progression by protecting the pancreas.

There are reports of elimination of cholecystitis:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673600981935

A very interesting thing – despite its defense-silencing effects, curcumin reduced the risk of upper respiratory infections in children:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19589293

In conclusion – in all diseases, when it is necessary to stop inflammation, curcumin has a very strong positive effect. It has a very strong potential to support cancer treatment, both in terms of patient well-being and the effect of stopping the disease itself, which of course depends on the type of cancer. It seems to be a very good supplement to take “just in case”.

You will often come across information that you only need to eat turmeric to provide curcumin. Both yes and no. Curcumin has a very low bioavailability; the one used in clinical trials was usually in a form that facilitated this process – for example, it was highly fragmented. Therapeutic doses ranged from 500 mg to as much as several grams. Pure ground turmeric rhizome contains up to 3 percent curcumin, but it happens to be only half a percent. Curry (turmeric spice), on the other hand, almost never contains even 1% curcumin, and sometimes it will only be 0.05%:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6750391_Curcumin_Content_of_Turmeric_and_Curry_Powders

You can forget about supplementation with kitchen spices. Unfortunately, I’m not able to recommend any particular product, and even if I did, after a few months the information could be outdated, and the blog will be hanging around the internet for years. I would suggest buying directly from the manufacturer, or in foreign stores (Iherb, Vitacost), or possibly in pharmacies. Pay attention to whether the product is standardized to a specific curcumin content, so you don’t buy ordinary curry in capsules.

Again, I stress, curcumin has very low bioavailability. It’s worth paying extra for a product with increased absorption – it’s better to spend twice as much for a product that is assimilated several dozen (!) times more.

Below is a list of patented products with increased absorption, but remember that these are usually the results of manufacturer-sponsored research and should be treated with caution. In parentheses how many times more we assimilate:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30006023

NovaSol (185)

CurcuWin (136)

LongVida (100)

Cavacurmin (85)

Meriva (48)

BCM-95 (27)

Curcumin C3 Complex (20)

Theracurmin (16)

CurQfen (16)

MicroActive curcumin (10)

Micronised curcumin (9)

Eating curry makes little sense. There is also little point in using supplements that do not have enhanced bioavailability. Clinical trials have sometimes used an extract with low bioavailability, so perhaps 5 mg of the expensive one will have a similar effect as 500 mg of the regular one.

Pay attention to tricks used by sellers or manufacturers. I just googled curcumin, the price is under $15, NovaSol formula… just great! Only after reading the composition on the manufacturer’s website, you find out that one tablet contains only 4.4 mg of the extract, in addition standardized to less than 5% curcumin. The retailer’s website did not have this information.

Finally – bioavailability is greatly increased with the addition of piperine. It decreases the destruction of curcumin by the liver, so its levels in the body last much longer. If by some miracle you get a supplement without piperine (they add it everywhere now), you can just eat some ground black pepper. The assimilability is also greatly increased if you eat some regular turmeric along with the curcumin concentrate – that is, it’s a good idea to eat a teaspoon of curry to a tablet.

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