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The spice turmeric is a very popular supplement nowadays, believed to have all sorts of health benefits due to the curcumin in it (e.g. that it is anticancer, anti-Alzheimer's, anti inflammatory). And yes, studies in the lab (in vitro and in vivo) look very promising. However, a large 2017 review of existing studies also found evidence that "curcumin is unstable under physiological conditions and not readily absorbed by the body, properties that make it a poor therapeutic candidate". In other words, the hype for curcumin supplements is not matching the reality, especially or probably because it is so poorly absorbed by humans. But researchers keep trying. And keep in mind that turmeric has other compounds in it also - it is not just curcumin and nothing else.

A "double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial" is the best evidence for something being effective. That means a study where people are randomly assigned to groups, no one actually knows who is getting what, and there is a placebo group that is getting a "sham" treatment. A recent study did exactly that in testing a new formulation of curcumin (Theracurmin) that was easily absorbed (bioavailable) by the persons participating in the study.

And yes - they found health benefits, specifically improvements in memory and attention in those persons taking the curcumin supplements over a 18 month period (as compared to those taking a placebo and whose memory and attention deteriorated over that time). The subjects (who were between 50 and 90 years of age) did not have dementia at the start of the study, but were showing signs of "normal aging" or had mild neurocognitive disorder. Brain scans (before and after treatment) suggested that the behavioral and cognitive benefits from curcumin were associated with "decreases in plaque and tangle accumulation in brain regions moduating mood and memory" - so it had anti-inflammatory and/or anti-amyloid brain effects.

So...  Stay tuned. Meanwhile, perhaps frequent eating of foods containing turmeric may also have beneficial effects, as some studies suggest. From Science Daily:

Curcumin improves memory and mood

Lovers of Indian food, give yourselves a second helping: Daily consumption of a certain form of curcumin -- the substance that gives Indian curry its bright color -- improved memory and mood in people with mild, age-related memory loss, according to the results of a study conducted by UCLA researchers. .... Found in turmeric, curcumin has previously been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in lab studies. It also has been suggested as a possible reason that senior citizens in India, where curcumin is a dietary staple, have a lower prevalence of Alzheimer's disease and better cognitive performance.

The double-blind, placebo-controlled study involved 40 adults between the ages of 50 and 90 years who had mild memory complaints. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo or 90 milligrams of curcumin twice daily for 18 months. All 40 subjects received standardized cognitive assessments at the start of the study and at six-month intervals, and monitoring of curcumin levels in their blood at the start of the study and after 18 months. Thirty of the volunteers underwent positron emission tomography, or PET scans, to determine the levels of amyloid and tau in their brains at the start of the study and after 18 months.

The people who took curcumin experienced significant improvements in their memory and attention abilities, while the subjects who received placebo did not, Small said. In memory tests, the people taking curcumin improved by 28 percent over the 18 months. Those taking curcumin also had mild improvements in mood, and their brain PET scans showed significantly less amyloid and tau signals in the amygdala and hypothalamus than those who took placebos. The amygdala and hypothalamus are regions of the brain that control several memory and emotional functions. [Original study.]

The spice turmeric is very popular these days, especially because studies link it to various health benefits. But is this true? Is it better to eat turmeric in foods or take it in pill form as a supplement? Today's post is about a study that was done by the BBC teaming up with researchers at Newcastle University (in the UK) where they looked at whether modest doses of turmeric had health benefits when ingested daily for 6 weeks. Specifically, they looked at what turmeric does to various blood markers thought to be associated with inflammation and changes that could eventually lead to the onset of cancer. It is currently thought that many or turmeric's supposed health benefits come from the compound curcumin found in it.

The researchers took blood samples of 100 volunteers, who were then split up into 3 groups (turmeric powder, a turmeric pill, or a placebo pill daily). Only the group that ingested turmeric in powder form (1 teaspoon mixed in food) showed changes after 6 weeks, and they were exciting beneficial changes in the methylation of DNA. This is because "methylation of the DNA can ‘go wrong’ and this can cause cells to become cancerous".

It's still early days in this research, and more has to be done, but it is exciting. In the meantime, don't take turmeric in pill form, but eat it in foods. It seems that more of the turmeric gets absorbed when eaten with foods, especially foods with fat, and also with a little black pepper. Excerpts from the article written by Michael Mosley, one of the presenters of the broadcast show "Trust Me, I'm A Doctor", from the BBC News:

Could turmeric really boost your health?

Turmeric is a spice which in its raw form looks a bit like ginger root, but when it's ground down you get a distinctive yellowy orange powder that's very popular in South Asian cuisine.....So we tracked down leading researchers from across the country and with their help recruited nearly 100 volunteers from the North East to do a novel experiment. Few of our volunteers ate foods containing turmeric on a regular basis.

Then we divided them into three groups. We asked one group to consume a teaspoon of turmeric every day for six weeks, ideally mixed in with their food. Another group were asked to swallow a supplement containing the same amount of turmeric, and a third group were given a placebo, or dummy pill. The volunteers who were asked to consume a teaspoon of turmeric a day were ingenious about what they added it to, mixing it with warm milk or adding it to yoghurt. Not everyone was enthusiastic about the taste, with comments ranging from "awful" to "very strong and lingering".

But what effect was eating turmeric having on them? We decided to try and find out using a novel test developed at University College, London, by Prof Martin Widschwendter and his team....There are at least 200 different compounds in turmeric, but there's one that scientists are particularly interested in. It gives this spice its colour. It's called curcumin. Thousands of scientific papers have been published looking at turmeric and curcumin in the laboratory - some with promising results. But they've mainly been done in mice, using unrealistically high doses. There have been few experiments done in the real world, on humans.

Prof Widschwendter is not particularly interested in turmeric but he is interested in how cancers start. His team have been comparing tissue samples taken from women with breast cancer and from women without it and they've found a change that happens to the DNA of cells well before they become cancerous. The change is in the "packaging" of the genes. It's called DNA methylation. It's a bit like a dimmer switch that can turn the activity of the gene up or down. The exciting thing is that if it is detected in time this change can, potentially, be reversed, before the cell turns cancerous.

So we asked Prof Widschwendter whether testing the DNA methylation patterns of our volunteers' blood cells at the start and end of the experiment would reveal any change in their risk of cancer and other diseases, like allergies. It was something that had not been done before. Fortunately he was very enthusiastic. "We were delighted," he said, "to be involved in this study, because it is a proof of principle study that opens entirely new windows of opportunity to really look into how we can predict preventive measures, particularly for cancer."

So what, if anything, happened? When I asked him that, he pulled out his laptop and slowly began to speak."We didn't find any changes in the group taking the placebo," he told me. That was not surprising. "The supplement group also didn't also show any difference," he went on. That was surprising and somewhat disappointing.

"But the group who mixed turmeric powder into their food," he continued, "there we saw quite substantial changes. It was really exciting, to be honest. We found one particular gene which showed the biggest difference. And what's interesting is that we know this particular gene is involved in three specific diseases: depression, asthma and eczema, and cancer. This is a really striking finding."

It certainly is. But why did we see changes only in those eating turmeric, not in those taking the same amount as a supplement? Dr Kirsten Brandt, who is a senior lecturer at Newcastle University and who helped run the experiment, thinks it may have something to do with the way the turmeric was consumed. "It could be," she told me, "that adding fat or heating it up makes the active ingredients more soluble, which would make it easier for us to absorb the turmeric.....She also told me, because our volunteers all tried consuming their turmeric in different ways, that we can be confident it was the turmeric that was making the difference and not some other ingredient used to make, say, chicken tikka masala. There is a lot more research that needs to be done, including repeating the experiment to see if these findings can be confirmed.

More information about the study and results from BBC News: Does turmeric really help protect us from cancer?

As we know, chronic inflammation is linked to cancer and other diseases. It is long-term persistent low-grade inflammation, and it has a "wear and tear" effect on the body. What causes chronic inflammation? Being overweight or obese, sedentary lifestyle, Western (low fiber, high processed foods and meat) diet, chronic illnesses, viruses or bacteria (e.g., gum disease), smoking, air pollution, stress, excessive alcohol intake. It often does not have symptoms, but doctors can test for C-reactive protein levels (CRP), which increase when the body is inflamed. So you absolutely want to lower chronic inflammation if you can.

High dietary intake of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in polyphenols, has been linked through many studies with reduced risk for diseases that are associated with chronic inflammation, such as cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Polyphenols are a class of chemicals or micronutrients found in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables.

New research looked at 31 polyphenols (alone and in some mixtures) to see which lowered inflammation the most. They found that some mixtures of polyphenols actually had more than an additive effect - that it's more than a sum of the individual polyphenols. They found that the polyphenols resveratrol, isorhamnetin, and curcumin were the most anti-inflammatory. Isorhamnetin is a flavonol that occurs in apples, onions and green tea; curcumin is from the Indian spice turmeric; and resveratrol is present in the skin of red, purple and black grapes, and in especially high concentrations in Itadori tea (from Japanese knotweed). Another important anti-inflammatory polyphenol is vanillic acid, which is found in vanilla, wine, whole wheat, and berries.

Just remember that it is better to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables rather than taking supplements. Foods are more than just one or 2 isolated ingredients, but consist of many micronutrients, microbes, etc , and when eating a varied diet, a person typically has mixtures of many polyphenols in their system at once. The research finds that these polyphenol mixtures interact with one another. Studies  typically find real foods to be superior to supplements in beneficial health effects. From Science Daily:

What foods can help fight the risk of chronic inflammation?

A new study by the University of Liverpool's Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease has identified food stuffs that can help prevent chronic inflammation that contributes to many leading causes of death. Inflammation occurs naturally in the body but when it goes wrong or goes on too long, it can trigger disease processes. Uncontrolled inflammation plays a role in many major diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.

Diets rich in fruits and vegetables, which contain polyphenols, protect against age-related inflammation and chronic diseasesPolyphenols are abundant micronutrients in our diet, and evidence for their role in the prevention of degenerative diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases is already emerging. The health effects of polyphenols depend on the amount consumed and on their bioavailability.

T-cells, or T-lymphocytes, are a type of white blood cell that circulate around our bodies, scanning for cellular abnormalities and infections. They contribute to cell signalling molecules (cytokines) that aid cell-to-cell communication in immune responses and stimulate the movement of cells towards sites of inflammation, infection and trauma. Cytokines are modulated by fruit and vegetable intake.

The study, conducted by Sian Richardson and Dr Chris Ford from the University's Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, examined the different potencies of the polyphenols. Sian Richardson, said: "The results of our study suggest that (poly)phenols derived from onions, turmeric, red grapes, green tea and açai berries may help reduce the release of pro-inflammatory mediators in people at risk of chronic inflammation. "Older people are more susceptible to chronic inflammation and as such they may benefit from supplementing their diets with isorhamnetin, resveratrol, curcumin and vanillic acid or with food sources that yield these bioactive molecules."

For years there has been discussion about curcumin's anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-cancer effects, but more research is needed (some trials are going on now). Curcumin is a chemical compound found in turmeric. Turmeric is a member of the ginger family. It is used as a spice and is a common ingredient in Indian cooking, but also used in Middle Eastern and South Asian recipes.From Medical Xpress;

Curcumin proved effective at combating cancer

WA scientists have helped re-affirm that curcumin, a chemical compound found in turmeric, is a safe and promising treatment for most cancers and other inflammation-driven diseases.The international review considered past clinical trials using curcumin to treat cancer patients and concluded curcumin was a safe and effective molecule to treat cancer.

A/Prof Sethi says curcumin is exceptionally effective for multiple myeloma patients and those suffering from the particularly lethal pancreatic cancer, for which there are no drugs. However, curcumin was not found to be as effective in breast cancer patients being treated with the chemotherapeutic agent cyclophosphamide. According to the research, curcumin can counteract the effect of cyclophosphamide.

A/Prof Sethi says curcumin is possibly the only drug that can be given at high doses—up to 12g—without any toxicity.... A/Prof Sethi says the only known side effect of the agent is blood thinning, and therefore advises against taking curcumin if undergoing surgery.

He recommends people use turmeric more often in everyday cooking. A/Prof Sethi says it would be ideal to combine curcumin with other drugs or natural compounds, like piperine, an alkaloid found in pepper to increase its bioavailabilty..

A/Prof Sethi says there is a lack of data to explain the underlying mechanism of its effect, however, it is known for its anti-inflammatory effects. "It has been shown that most chronic diseases, including cancer, are caused by inflammation and can be treated by anti-inflammatory agents."He says more work needs to be done to improve curcumin's viability, as body tissues quickly absorb it.