For those who appreciate the unique spiciness of turmeric, it’s serendipitous to learn there are several layers of extraordinary health benefits included with the active ingredient known as curcumin. One of the latest was revealed in a study in which scientists tested the powerful compound for its effects on heart failure patients.
Heart failure, experienced by nearly 6 million people in the U.S., weakens your heart and affects its ability to pump sufficient oxygen. Patients no longer have the ability to participate in activities and exercise like they once did, which could be described as life-altering.
Heart failure is also described as chronic, progressive and incurable, although a change in lifestyle, such as eating a balanced, healthy diet and performing regular exercise can decrease feelings of fatigue and enhance their mood enough to help people resume their lives to a large degree.
Research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology reports that curcumin may help patients with chronic heart failure by increasing skeletal muscle strength, endurance and exercise capacity. Although mice were the subjects used in the trial, the scientists are hopeful their research can eventually be translated to human patients in a clinical setting.
Turmeric is in the same botanical family as ginger, another powerful spice with proven, health-beneficial compounds. With that in mind, corresponding study author Dr. Lie Gao, assistant professor of cellular and integrative physiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), notes:
“This study showed an important proof of principle. Some foods and spices, such as broccoli and turmeric, contain a rich supply of antioxidant compounds. Consumption of these foods or spices may improve skeletal muscle health. For patients with stable heart failure that have limited ability to exercise, compounds like these may be beneficial.”
Interestingly, previous studies proposed that targeting skeletal muscle with antioxidants may be advantageous for heart failure patients, but Gao states that it’s not possible to use curcumin on humans because of the high amounts it would take.
Gao then suggests that “other antioxidants” such as dimethyl fumarate, a drug currently popular for treating multiple sclerosis, could be used for its health-improving benefits. That said, curcumin is one of the hundreds of plant-based nutrients, from carrots to tobacco, to be unapologetically sourced and manufactured into pharmaceuticals.
Curcumin: Gingery, Earthy, Healing
Curcumin, taken from the underground rhizome of the plant, is the pigment that gives curry its bright yellow hue, explaining why turmeric is an ingredient used to complement and color stir-fries and sautéed root vegetables, rice, scrambled eggs and braised greens such as kale and collards.
In just the past few years, queries about the spice touted to have a “cult following” have increased exponentially, according to The Guardian. It’s showing up in foods like smoothies and the trendy turmeric latte known as golden milk, a potent blend of organic turmeric powder and coconut milk and/or virgin coconut oil.
Optional flavor additions include vanilla, raw honey or stevia, a stick of ginger and/or cinnamon, and sometimes a healthy dash of black or white pepper. The addition of ghee is used to soothe a sore throat.
In fact, the use of black pepper in golden milk is supported by a study in which the “curcuminoid-piperine combination” addressed the symptoms of metabolic syndrome in 117 study subjects who exhibited both oxidative stress and inflammation. According to the randomized, controlled trial and updated meta-analysis, oxidative and inflammatory status showed significant improvement, even with short-term curcumin supplementation.
Tellingly, turmeric is called the “spice of life” in India. Golden milk is becoming increasingly popular not just as a pleasant, warming drink for cool autumn evenings, but as a sleep aid for people who struggle with insomnia. Further, curcumin has been identified as a substance that’s safe, effective and natural.
A plethora of studies point to the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin (Curcuma longa) and reveal more than 160 separate physiological and cell-signaling pathways, positively influencing arthritic conditions, cancer, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and, more recently, metabolic syndrome and dementia.
Curcumin to Help Prevent Cancer
Curcumin has been identified as one of the most powerful chemopreventive and anticancer agents, and recognized for its wide spectrum of pharmacological properties and inhibitory effects on metabolic enzymes, according to PubChem, which notes its wound healing and antimicrobial effects, and states:
“Curcumin blocks the formation of reactive-oxygen species, possesses anti-inflammatory properties as a result of inhibition of cyclooxygenases (COX) and other enzymes involved in inflammation; and disrupts cell signal transduction by various mechanisms including inhibition of protein kinase C.
These effects may play a role in the agent’s observed antineoplastic properties, which include inhibition of tumor cell proliferation and suppression of chemically induced carcinogenesis and tumor growth in animal models of cancer.”
The same study shows curcumin as able to suppress cancer proliferation and apoptosis (programmed cell death), thereby acting as a chemopreventive agent in skin, colon and stomach cancers. Other studies using animal models list breast, bladder, brain, esophageal, kidney, liver, lung, pancreas and prostate cancers, and more.