If you’ve ever seen bright orange turmeric lattes on Instagram and wondered what all the fuss I about, read on! Curcumin is a valuable phytonutrient within turmeric. While its food sources are limited, it can be found in a myriad of bottled forms. As a pill, or in the form of food, what are the benefits of consuming curcumin?
Curcumin is found to decrease systemic inflammation. This can help in the reduction of almost all obesity related co-morbidities including cancer, diabetes, hypertension and liver damage. It deactivates a signalling molecule known as Nf-Kappa-B (NfKB). NfKB modulates gene expression of inflammatory cytokines. By inhibiting this molecule, curcumin inhibits the production of cytokines. Hence, reducing inflammation.
Curcumin is also an anti-oxidant. This means it helps naturalise the harmful reactive species that our bodies naturally produce. This promotes cell health and helps to further inhibit NfKB.
Curcumin also activates cryoprotection genes. These are the genes involved with longevity. While it’s a stretch to say that curcumin makes you live longer, it does promote healthy cells that help prevent cancer. Interestingly, the Okinawa population in Japan, consume a diet high in curcumin. Research shows that this population lives longer! While this evidence is only anecdotal, and does not prove causation, it is interesting none the less.
Too good to be true?
Cell studies have revealed the wondrous benefits of curcumin, but how does this translate to benefits in the human body? Unfortunately the translation is not as direct as we would like.
The complexity of the human body and the complex interactions between nutrients within food mean that how the nutrient affects the cell, does not mirror how it affects the body, as a whole.
Curcumin is fat soluble. This means that it needs to be consumed with a fat source in order to be absorbed. However, when consumed in tablet form on its lonesome, no fat source is supplied. This results in the nutrient being poorly absorbed and mostly excreted. As food, turmeric is usually incorporated to Indian curries. In this case, it is supplied with Ghee, a fat source. Hence, absorption is increased.
The liver is really good at what it does. Sometimes, a little too good. Curcumin is a substance it wants to remove from the body. It does this through a series of conjugation reactions. This results in most of what is consumed being converted to a far less active metabolite that is quickly excreted.
Looking into the Future
Researchers are now on the hunt for the best way to increase the activity of curcumin in our body. Some promising strategies include modifying the nutrient with lipoproteins that prevent its excretion and increase its absorption.
With new technologies making curcumin supplements an effective reality, we must ask the question ‘how much is too much?’. Research is only in its early days, but there is some evidence to suggest negative side effects associated with curcumin overdose. Perhaps these supplements should come with a warning label?
In conclusion, there is still much we don’t know about curcumin. What we do know is pretty exciting, but don’t be so quick to fork out for ineffective supplements.
If you would like to read more about curcumin, follow the link below.