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Does Curcumin Live Up to the Hype?


Good nutrition is about the totality of the diet, not just one single nutrient or compound.


Curcumin is a biologically active polyphenolic compound found in turmeric, a spice commonly consumed in Asian countries but is also used for medicinal purposes. Curcumin is receiving a lot of press these days as a “cure-all” for everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer. But is it all its “ground” up to be?

Curcumin does in fact contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds and is absolutely a great addition to the diet. However, one shouldn’t rely on this alone to boost health notes a report in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. Researchers reviewed the most recent literature on curcumin and found that it is relatively poorly absorbed by the body, so simply adding it to your foods or taking a pill will not reach a “therapeutic” dose needed to cure disease.

The team does say, on the other hand, that increasing intake of curcumin may still have health benefits – just not the magic bullet that we so desire from a nutrient. The spice has many properties that may synergistically work together to provide healthful effects. For example, some research shows that adding curcumin to certain foods such as pumpkins can help retain the beta-carotene content during cooking.

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Here is what we do know about curcumin:
• Antioxidant Activity – curcumin is an effective scavenger of reactive oxygen species or ROS. Oral intake may help protect gastrointestinal mucosa against oxidative DNA damage, says the Linus Pauling Institute of Oregon State University.
• Anti-Inflammatory Activity – Curcumin has been shown to inhibit mediators of the inflammatory response, including cytokines and other compounds. It may also help immune response.
• While simply taking curcumin will not cure cancer, the spice is known to have several effects that are anti-cancer promoting. Research shows that it may inhibit the activity of certain biotransformation enzymes, may help induce apoptosis (cell death), and may inhibit tumor invasion and angiogenesis.
• Neuroprotective – curcumin may inhibit a process that leads to oxidative stress and neuronal death implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.

Here are some suggested ways to use turmeric/curcumin:
• Add turmeric to egg salad to give it an even bolder yellow color.
• Mix brown rice with raisins and cashews and season with turmeric, cumin and coriander.
• Turmeric doesn't have to only be used in curries. This spice is delicious on sautéed apples, and steamed or sautéed cauliflower. It is also good with cooked green beans and onions.
• For a creamy, flavor-rich, low-calorie dip, try mixing some turmeric and dried onion with a little omega-3-rich mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Serve with raw cauliflower, celery, sweet pepper, jicama and broccoli florets.
• Turmeric is a great spice to complement recipes that feature lentils.
• Give salad dressings an orange-yellow hue by adding some turmeric powder to them.

Journal of Medicinal Chemistry: The Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Curcumin. 2017 American Chemical Society
Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University
World’s Healthiest Foods

Photo Credit: Rajkumar6182 at English Wikipedia [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons