Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. It is native to tropical South Asia and needs temperatures between 20 °C and 30 °C and a considerable amount of annual rainfall to thrive. Plants are gathered annually for their rhizomes, and propagated from some of those rhizomes in the following season.
When not used fresh, the rhizomes are boiled for several hours and then dried in hot ovens, after which they are ground into a deep orange-yellow powder commonly used as a spice in curries and other South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine, for dyeing, and to impart color to mustard condiments. Its active ingredient is curcumin and it has a distinctly earthy, slightly bitter, slightly hot peppery flavor and a mustardy smell.
In medieval Europe, turmeric became known as Indian saffron, since it was widely used as an alternative to the far more expensive saffron spice.
Preliminary medical research
Turmeric is currently being investigated for possible benefits in Alzheimer's disease, cancer, arthritis, and other clinical disorders.
In the latter half of the 20th century, curcumin was identified as responsible for most of the biological effects of turmeric..
Uses in folk medicine
In Ayurvedic practices, turmeric has is used as an anti-inflammatory agent and remedy for gastrointestinal discomfort associated with irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders. Some may use turmeric in skin creams as an antiseptic agent for cuts, burns and bruises. It is popular as a tea in Okinawa, Japan. *
* Read an article in Wikipedia with references and links April 2, 2011
* Turmeric. (2011, March 15). In Wikipedia,
The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 15:18, April 2, 2011,
Read a more current article in Wikipedia with references and links August 8, 2012
Curcumin is the principal curcuminoid of the popular Indian spice turmeric, which is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). The other two curcuminoids are desmethoxycurcumin and bis-desmethoxycurcumin. The curcuminoids are natural phenols and are responsible for the yellow color of turmeric. Curcumin can exist in at least two tautomeric forms, keto and enol. The enol form is more energetically stable in the solid phase and in solution.
Curcumin is brightly yellow colored and may be used as a food coloring. As a food additive, its E number is E100.
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Potential medical uses
Turmeric has been used historically as a component of Indian Ayurvedic medicine since 1900 BC to treat a wide variety of ailments. Research in the latter half of the 20th century has identified curcumin as responsible for most of the biological activity of turmeric. In vitro and animal studies have suggested a wide range of potential therapeutic or preventive effects associated with curcumin. At present, these effects have not been confirmed in humans. However, as of 2008, numerous clinical trials in humans were underway, studying the effect of curcumin on various diseases, including multiple myeloma, pancreatic cancer, myelodysplastic syndromes, colon cancer, psoriasis, and Alzheimer's disease.
In vitro and animal studies have suggested curcumin may have antitumor, antioxidant, antiarthritic, antiamyloid, anti-ischemic, and anti-inflammatory properties. Anti-inflammatory properties may be due to inhibition of eicosanoid biosynthesis. In addition it may be effective in treating malaria, prevention of cervical cancer, and may interfere with the replication of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In HIV, it appears to act by interfering with P300/CREB-binding protein (CBP). It is also hepatoprotective. A 2008 study at Michigan State University showed low concentrations of curcumin interfere with Herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) replication. The same study showed curcumin inhibited the recruitment of RNA polymerase II to viral DNA, thus inhibiting its transcription. This effect was shown to be independent of effect on histone acetyltransferase activities of p300/CBP. A previous (1999) study performed at University of Cincinnati indicated curcumin is significantly associated with protection from infection by HSV-2 in animal models of intravaginal infections.
Curcumin acts as a free radical scavenger and antioxidant, inhibiting lipid peroxidation and oxidative DNA damage. Curcuminoids induce glutathione S-transferase and are potent inhibitors of cytochrome P450.
A 2004 UCLA-Veterans Affairs study involving genetically altered mice suggested curcumin might inhibit the accumulation of destructive beta-amyloid in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients, and might also break up existing plaques associated with the disease.
There is also circumstantial evidence curcumin improves mental functions.
Numerous studies have demonstrated curcumin, amongst only a few other things, such as high impact exercise, learning, bright light, and antidepressant usage, has a positive effect on neurogenesis in the hippocampus and concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor(BDNF), reductions in both of which are associated with stress, depression, and anxiety. Curcumin has also been demonstrated to be a selective monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) of type MAO-A. These results are in conflict with evidence that curcumin cannot cross the blood-brain barrier.
From 2010 to 2011, scientists at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center have created a new molecule from curcumin, a chemical component turmeric, and have found, in laboratory experiments, that the molecule affects mechanisms that protect and help regenerate brain cells after a stroke.
Its potential anticancer effects stem from its ability to induce apoptosis in cancer cells without cytotoxic effects on healthy cells.
Another 2009 study on curcumin effects on cancer states it "modulates growth of tumor cells through regulation of multiple cell signaling pathways including cell proliferation pathway (cyclin D1, c-myc), cell survival pathway (Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, cFLIP, XIAP, c-IAP1), caspase activation pathway (caspase-8, 3, 9), tumor suppressor pathway (p53, p21) death receptor pathway (DR4, DR5), mitochondrial pathways, and protein kinase pathway (JNK, Akt, and AMPK)".
A 2010 study in malignant brain tumors showed curcumin effectively inhibits tumor cell proliferation, as well as migration and invasion, and these effects may be mediated through interference with the STAT3 signaling pathway.
When 0.2% curcumin is added to the diet given to rats or mice previously given a carcinogen, it significantly reduces colon carcinogenesis.
Curcumin has recently been shown to have phyto-estrogenic activity that might contribute to activity against breast cancer. In the murine model of breast cancer metastasis, curcumin inhibits the formation of lung metastases probably through the NF-kappa-B dependent regulation of protumorigenic inflammatory cytokines.
Little curcumin, when eaten, is absorbed: from 2 to 10 grams of curcumin eaten alone resulted in undetectable to very low serum levels. Curcumin is unstable in the gut, and the traces that pass through the GI tract rapidly degrade or are conjugated through glucuronidation.
There have been several commercial products developed to provide an alternate route to curcumin. For example, curcumin supplements with piperine are readily available. But curcumin in a non-solubilized pill form can limit bioavailability. Other products, such as Nutmeric, provide curcumin in an oil-solubilized form similar to Indian curry preparations.
Co-supplementation with 20 mg of piperine (extracted from black pepper) significantly increased the absorption of curcumin by 2000% in a study funded by a prominent manufacturer of piperine. However, the increase in absorption only occurred during the first hour, after which the difference between the piperine curcumin and the regular curcumin was almost the same as far as absorption. Due to its effects on drug metabolism, piperine should be taken cautiously (if at all) by individuals taking other medications.
Another curcumin proprietary formulation, (BCM-95®) mixed with turmeric oils, was shown in human cross-over bioavailability comparison tests to have 8 times the bioavailability and greater blood retention time than standard 95% and up to 5 times more than curcumin combined with lecithin and piperine.
This same formula was also shown to remain above 200 ng/g for 12 hours in a human clinical study. Plain curcumin remained above 200 ng/g for less than 2 hours. Two hours after ingestion, BCM-95 levels where 10-fold over that of plain curcumin.
Some benefits of curcumin, such as the potential protection from colon cancer, may not require systemic absorption. Alternatively, dissolving curcumin in hot water or in warm oils prior to ingestion may possibly increase bioavailability; however, no published studies to date have documented this. Cooking with curcumin and oil may increase absorption, but peer-reviewed scientific literature has not documented this, while the literature has documented concerns regarding the heat stability of curcumin and its degradation in the gut.
Potential risks and side effects
Clinical studies in humans with high doses (2–12 grams) of curcumin have shown few side effects, with some subjects reporting mild nausea or diarrhea. More recently, curcumin was found to alter iron metabolism by chelating iron and suppressing the protein hepcidin, potentially causing iron deficiency in susceptible patients. Further studies seem to be necessary to establish the benefit/risk profile of curcumin.
** Read an article in Wikipedia with references and links April 2, 2011