Researchers have determined that laboratory mice given a diet supplemented with curcumin experience a reduction in the formation of fat tissue, and a lowered number of blood-vessels that feed fat. Curcumin is the active ingredient and major polyphenol in the bright yellow spice from India known as turmeric.
The growth and expansion of fat tissues requires new blood vessels, a process known as angiogenesis. In fat tissue, this process is mediated by the secretion of adipokines, such as leptin, adiponectin, resistin, interleukin-6 and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). The researchers first investigated the effect of curcumin in cultured human cells to which adipokines had been added to stimulate angiogenesis. They found that the ability of curcumin to inhibit angiogenesis was partly due to the reduced expression of VEGF.
Subsequently, the mice were fed a high-fat diet supplemented with 500 milligrams curcumin per kilogram of food, for three months. Weight-gain was reduced in the mice who were given curcumin. The curcumin-supplemented mice had lower weight and reduced total-body fat. They also had lower liver-weights, and experienced a reduction in VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor), indicating reduced risk for angiogenesis.
Also called curcumin, turmeric is a mustard-yellow spice from India. Indians use it more for its healing properties than for taste. Turmeric has an innocuous flavor, and adds color to foods.
In India, turmeric has been revered for its healing properties, and thus is used as a daily dietary supplement. In the Ayurvedic system of health, turmeric has medicinal properties and is an anti-inflammatory agent to treat a wide variety of conditions, including flatulence, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, bloody urine, hemorrhage, toothache, bruises, chest pain, and colic. Because of its effects on enzyme related to inflammation, turmeric may have the same mode of action as anti-inflammatory drugs, without the side-effects. Curcumin is used for cuts and burns and is known as an antiseptic/antibacterial. It is also used to remedy stomach-ulcers.
The U.S. National Institues of Health has four clinical trials in progress, involving curcumin as a treatment for pancreatic cancer, multiple myeloma, Alzheimer’s, and colorectal cancer. According to a 2005 article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Common Indian Spice Stirs Hope,” research activity into curcumin, turmeric’s active ingredient, is burgeoning. Two-hundred and fifty-six curcumin-study papers were published in 2005, according to a search of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
The Benefits of Turmeric, Noted in The Okinawa Program
This 2001 book, The Okinawa Program by Bradley J. Willcox, M.D., D. Craig Willcox, Ph. D., and Makoto Suzuki, M.D., is based upon the 25-year-long Okinawa Centenarian Study. It is one of my favorite diet and health books.
Turmeric has recently garnered respect and much publicity as a medicinal plant from the ginger family. The qualities of turmeric are not news to the famously long-living people of Okinawa, as related on page 149:
Ucchin, or Turmeric M-J’s pronunciation note: TER-mer-ick
(Curcuma longa, Jiang Huang, Curcuma, Indian saffron, Ukon, Valerian)
Ucchin, commonly known in North America as turmeric, is one of the Okinawans’ favorite herbs (as it is in India), and claims a multitude of health benefits. It’s known as ukon to the Japanese….
Turmeric is from the ginger family. The stalk of the plant is the part most commonly used in both herbal and traditional medicine, and is the part that provides the distinctive yellow-orange powder that adds flavor and color to curry. It was probably brought to Okinawa centuries ago from India, which had active trade relations with the Ryukyu Kingdom (as Okinawa was formerly known). In Ayurvedic medicine…turmeric is thought to strengthen the immune system, relieve inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, improve digestion, relieve gas, killl parasites and worms, alleviate menstrual problems, dissolve gallstones, and relieve other ailments. The Okinawans are in full accord with these claims, and highly prize their turmeric.
Excerpt, page 150
Turmeric possesses significant antioxidant properties, comparable to that of vitamins E or C, which is probably why it proves powerful against cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research has reported some degree of inhibition for cancers of the GI tract, including oral, esophageal, stomach, and colon cancers. And, there is further evidence for its effectiveness against breast and skin cancers.
News Release from the Royal College of Psychiatrists:
Eating a curry once or twice a week could help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The magic ingredient in curry is curcumin, a component of the spice, turmeric.
Professor Murali Doraiswamy, director of the Mental Fitness Laboratory at the Department of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Carolina, told delegates at the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Annual Meeting in Liverpool that curcumin prevented the spread of amyloid plaques, found outside brain cells.
These plaques, along with neurofibrillary tangles, are thought to contribute to the degradation of the wiring in brain cells and lead to the subsequent symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Professor Doraiswamy said: “There is very solid evidence that curcumin binds to plaques, and basic research on animals engineered to produce human amyloid plaques has shown benefits. Turmeric has been studied not just in Alzheimer’s research but for a variety of conditions, such as cancer and arthritis. Turmeric is often referred to as the spice of life in ancient Indian medical lore.”
A clinical trial is now underway at the University of California, Los Angeles, to test curcumin’s effects in human Alzheimer’s patients and specifically on their amyloid plaque proteins. A small pilot trail was completed to determine the right dose and researchers have now embarked on a larger study.
Professor Doraiswamy told the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Annual Meeting: “You can modify a mouse so that at about 12 months its brain is riddled with plaques. If you feed this rat a curcumin-rich diet it dissolves these plaques. The same diet prevented younger mice from forming new plaques. The next step is to test curcumin on human amyloid plaque formation using newer brain scans and there are plans for that.”
Studies looking at populations show that people who eat a curry meal two or three times a week seem to have a lower risk for dementia, he told the Annual Meeting. “Those studies seem to show that you need only consume what is part of the normal diet – but the research studies are testing higher doses to see if they can maximise the effect. It would be equivalent of going on a curry spree for a week.”
However, curry may be just one of the ingredients that prevent degeneration of the brain. “If you are eating fatty burgers and smoking then don’t expect an occasional curry to counterbalance a poor lifestyle. However, if you have a good diet and take plenty of exercise, eating curry regularly could help prevent dementia,” he said.
Turmeric is also found in mustard and Professor Doraiswamy predicted a day when – for those unable, or unwilling, to consume curries regularly – the public might be advised to take a ‘curry’ pill every day if the findings are confirmed in human studies.
Professor Doraiswamy and other scientists are testing a brain PET scan which can detect the prevalence of plaques in the living brain. At the moment, a definitive diagnosis can be made only after the patient has died. A second scan also being developed can detect both plaques and tangles – both of which are present in Alzheimer’s.
Many leading drugs being developed are targeting the plaques, said Professor Doraiswamy, and clinicians were prescribing these dugs “blindly” without knowing the plaque load in the brain. He said: “The hope is that with the PET scans you can scan their brains, find out whether their plaque load is high or low, and tailor treatment. If their plaque load is low, then you have to question the diagnosis.”
Some 20-30 per cent of diagnoses were wrong, said Professor Doraiswamy, and the condition could be vascular dementia or any number of other conditions masquerading as Alzheimer’s. “If you gave that person treatment it wouldn’t help – it would be a waste of money and in some cases hurt”.
The professor said it was conceivable in the near future, when preventive therapies were available, that a 50-year-old with a strong history of Alzheimer’s could be screened to determine the levels of plaque in their brains and then initiate anti-plaque therapy.
Professor Doraiswamy, a leading expert on brain health and fitness, grew up in Southern Indian town of Madras famous for its fiery curries. He is currently on a lecture tour promoting his consumer book The Alzheimer’s Action Plan, published in April. Source:
Annual Meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, BT Convention Centre, Liverpool, 2 -5 June 2009
Royal College of Psychiatrists