Curcumin is a well studied and versatile supplement, with a wide variety of benefits – and it’s one of my favorites. This post is one of the most comprehensive on the internet.
Executive Summary of Curcumin
Curcumin is beneficial in:
- Cancers: Liver, pancreatic, breast, colon, lung, prostate, brain, leukemia
- Dry eyes
- Metal toxicity (iron, mercury, lead, selenium, arsenic, zinc) and Flouride toxicity
- Disease related inflammation
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis
- Traumatic brain injuries: Ischemia/Reperfusion
- Gastric Ulcers,
- Spinal cord injuries
- Weight management
- Diabetes/Insulin response
- Liver damage
- Microbial infections: It’s anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial.
Note that turmeric is not bioavailable and you won’t be getting the benefits of curcumin when taking turmeric, although you might be getting other benefits. You need to take a bioavailable form of Curcumin (or Curcumin).
What is Curcumin?
Turmeric (Curcuma Longa), most commonly known as the spice found in Curry, is not only known for its flavor, but its innumerable health benefits.
Turmeric contains several major constituents known as Curcuminoids which typically make up about 3% of its weight in commercially available preparations (R).
Curcumin is known to be the most active phytochemical of the four curcuminoids found in turmeric. Curcumin makes up 77% of the curcuminoids (R). The remaining three constituents typically come in at 17% desmethoxycurcumin, 3% bisdemethoxycurcumin, and the remaining, a fourth more recently identified curcuminoid, Cyclocurcumin (R).
- Great for reducing all kinds of inflammation, especially those with an overactive immune system
- Great for cancer
- Good for detoxing (heavy metals and fluoride)
- Has anti-fertility effects
- Doesn’t absorb through the gut or brain barrier well (if it’s not this brand)
- Doesn’t taste good, but this brand has no taste
1-2) Curcumin Helps Your Gut
3-6) Curcumin Fights Autoimmunity: Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis, and IBD
In patients with rheumatoid arthritis, dosing at 500mg curcumin + diclofenac sodium was found to be effective (R).
Curcumin inhibits autoimmune diseases by reducing inflammatory cytokines such as IL-1beta, IL-6, IL-12, TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma and associated JAK-STAT and NF-kappaB signaling pathways in immune cells (R).
7-9) Curcumin is Anti-Viral, Anti-Bacterial & Anti-Fungal
I’ve already discussed how curcumin inhibits biofilms and quorum sensing. I’ve also discussed how curcumin is capable of activating the vitamin D receptor, which is important for combating infections.
Curcumin protects against septicemia in mice exposed to the pathogenic bacteria responsible for cholera and reduces mortality rates (R, ).
10-11) Curcumin is Good For The Brain
Curcumin elevates levels of enzymes involved in the synthesis of DHA from ALA in both liver and brain tissues (R).
This is significant because even Fish oil/DHA supplements often don’t increase DHA in the brain.
Bioavailable Curcumin used in brain hemorrhaging improves neurological function and reduces brain water content (R).
In spinal cord injury, curcumin inhibited cell death and neuron loss, and significantly improved neurologic deficit seven days after injury (R).
Alzheimer’s / Neurogenesis
Bioavailable Curcumin helps create new brain cells in adults and reverses cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease.
Curcumin can stimulate developmental and adult hippocampal neurogenesis, neural plasticity and repair (R).
12-13) Curcumin Protects Against Stress & Depression
Curcumin (+piperine) enhances the effects of SSRIs and SNRI antidepressants in mice (R).
Curcumin significantly improved sustained attention, working memory, and mood in a healthy older population (R).
14-15) Curcumin Protects Against Metal Toxicity and Fluoride
Curcumin reduces tissue mercury concentrations (R).
Curcumin may be effective as pre-treatment to mercury intoxication in the liver, kidney, and brain (R).
Treatment with curcumin in iron-overloaded rats resulted in a marked decreased iron accumulation in the liver and spleen, while simultaneously restoring antioxidant levels (R).
Curcumin has also been found to ameliorate the neurodegenerative effects of fluoride on the brain (R).
16-19) Curcumin Helps Treat Obesity, Diabetes, Libido, Cataracts and Increase Muscle Tissue
Curcumin enhances erectile function in diabetic male rats (R).
It inhibits obesity-induced inflammation (R).
Bioavailable Curcumin delays cataract development in diabetic rats (R).
It alleviates diabetic cardiomyopathy in diabetic rats (R).
Studies show curcumin lessens diabetic complications in rat brains, slowing mitochondrial dysfunction (R).
A nine-month curcumin intervention significantly lowers the chances that prediabetes develops into Type II diabetes, simultaneously improving overall function of pancreatic cells (R).
Curcumin is also therapeutic for muscle tissue generation and accelerated healing after injury (R).
20) Curcumin is Anti-aging
Age-related diseases (Alzheimer‘s, atherosclerosis, metabolic disorders, etc.) are caused in large part by chronic low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress (ROS). This leads to molecular damage and DNA replication errors.
Curcumin is a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. It inhibits release of cytokines (IL-1, IL-6, TNF-alpha) that are responsible for the inflammation. Aging slows when inflammation is reduced (R).
21-22) Curcumin is an Antioxidant and an Anti-inflammatory
Curcumin inhibits enzymes which are responsible for mediating inflammation (R).
Curcumin treatment was found to be protective against oxidative stress, especially through inhibiting lipid peroxidation and increasing levels of glutathione, superoxide dismutase (SOD), and catalase activities in the kidney, liver, and brain (R).
Curcumin binds to iron, which is one mechanism by which it combats free radicals
In rats exposed to TCDD dioxin (found in Agent Orange), curcumin was shown to increase SOD activities of the liver, kidney and brain, catalase (CAT) activity of the heart, and glutathione peroxidase (GPx) in the heart and brain (R).
Curcumin can switch genes on and off through its interactions with various enzymes (HDACs, HATs, DNMT I and miRNAs) (R).
23-25) Curcumin Supports Women’s Health (PMS, HPV, Cervical Cancer)
Curcumin applied in a multi-herb cream had a clearance rate of 81.3% in cervical HPV infection (R).
26) Curcumin Helps Joint Problems
Curcumin may regenerate cartilage and was preferred by patients over analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs (R).
Curcumin reduces symptoms of osteoarthritis (R). A three-month treatment of 200mg/day of the curcumin-phosphatidylcholine complex decreased pain scores by 58% and increased walking distance by over 400% in osteoarthritis (R).
27-33) Curcumin Fights Cancer (Breast, Colon, Leukemia, Lung, Prostate, Pancreatic, Brain)
Curcumin has been shown to not only reduce the growth of new blood vessels in tumors (R), but also induce programmed cell death in human malignant brain cancer (glioblastoma) cells (R), oral cancer cells (R), T-cell lymphoma cells. (R), bone– (R), brain– (R), and melanoma cancer cells (R).
Curcumin is toxic against cancer cell mitochondria, which is important for its anticancer effect (R).
Curcumin stops the growth of malignant cells in oral cancer but doesn’t affect normal cells (R).
In a trial of breast cancer in humans, curcumin given orally at a dose of 6 g/day was found to improve the efficacy of the breast cancer treatment (R).
Curcumin is effective against leukemia, with no danger to normal cells (R). Curcumin combined with the green tea extract, EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate), promotes cell death in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (R).
In Lung cells, curcumin acts as an oxygen radical scavenger, an antioxidant (through modulation of glutathione levels), and an anti-inflammatory agent through inhibition of IL-8 (R).
Dietary curcumin at 5% concentration decreases radiation-induced lung fibrosis while not lessening the effectiveness of the radiation against tumor cells. It also significantly improved survival in mouse studies (R).
Of seven tested phytoestrogens, curcumin was found to be the most potent inhibitor of cancer cell growth while also inducing cell death in human prostate tumor cells (R), through mitochondrial cancer cell damage (R).
Bioavailable Curcumin blocks tumor growth and metastases in preclinical models of pancreatic cancer (R).
34-35) Curcumin Benefits Liver Health (From Alcohol and Aflatoxin)
36) Curcumin Protects Your Kidneys
A turmeric-based diet protected against kidney injury in rats (R).
Curcumin can prevent Tylenol overdose-induced damage to kidney cells (R).
37) Curcumin Helps Your Eyes (Cataracts, Dry Eyes)
Curcumin prevents cataracts in animal models (R).
Curcumin may have therapeutic potential for dry eye (R).
Safety and Dosage
Curcumin has been found to be safe to consume without side effects up to 10g/day (R).
I recommend ingesting 1-2g in the morning, upon awakening.
Potential Risks and Side Effects
In High Dose In-Vitro Models, Curcumin Can Cause Cytotoxicity and DNA Damage
At low doses (as shown in many studies above) it acts as a potent antioxidant, scavenging ROS. At high doses it is suggested that it may actually induce ROS, leading to DNA damage (R).
Many of the concerns regarding curcumin toxicity are addressed in this letter (R).
As a quick summation of the article, although worth the read, the first issue addressed is that many of these studies are done in-vitro. Meaning done in a test tube, outside of a living breathing organism.
With curcumin being extensively metabolized in the intestine (R), raising blood plasma levels by oral consumption to meet levels administered in the lab test tubes, at this point in time have not been achieved in the body (in vivo). It is also important to note that many studies (also included above) have already shown consumption of 10g/day (that’s a lot) with no negative side effects (R, R2).
Additionally, to obtain higher levels of solubility, Curcumin was dissolved using ethanol as a solvent. Against controls, it is unclear if the toxicity and damage to the DNA is due to the curcumin, ethanol, or curcumin+ethanol.
The authors write ‘The DNA damage described by Goodpasture and Arrighi, and others, therefore, cannot be possibly due to the binding of curcumin to DNA or its intercalation into DNA‘ (R).
But they do express the interest to see the effect high levels of curcumin on DNA would be if solubilized in water + heat as opposed to curcumin + organic solvents.
Curcumin may inhibit enzymes involved in the final step of testosterone synthesis. This could potentially lead to a reduction in testosterone levels at very high concentration. However, the significance of this effect is unclear (R).
The same study states that because humans can consume up to 8 grams of turmeric per day without apparent side effects, consuming curcumin orally may not increase curcumin levels in the blood enough to inhibit testosterone synthesis.
In vitro, curcumin increases LRRK2 mRNA and protein. LRRK2 is a gene whose expression has been positively associated with Parkinson’s disease. This could, in theory, lead to increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. However, this study suggests this is only one factor of many, including age and genetic predisposition (R).
Adding piperine (from black pepper) increases the absorption of curcumin in the blood by 2000% (R).