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For centuries turmeric has been used as a spice and a medicine. But in recent years this golden spice has come into its own, being hailed as the new super power in the world of supplements.

More than 300 different active constituents have been identified in turmeric (Curcuma longa). Of these, researchers have isolated that constituents known as the ‘curcuminoids’ appear to be responsible for the main medicinal actions of turmeric. The curcuminoid that appears to be most significant is known as ‘curcumin’.

It is clear that by extracting the curcumin from turmeric, researchers have found a powerful anti-inflammatory and potent antioxidant ingredient. While this article focuses on some of the more recent research, please stay tuned! There is no doubt much more to come from this multi-purpose supplement.

Reduces The Risk Of Diabetes

Insulin resistance afflicts many Australians and recent trials have shown that supplementation with curcumin may help slow progression of insulin resistance to diabetes via curcumin’s anti-inflammatory action. In a recent trial, 240 pre-diabetic adults were assigned to two groups, the first group were supplemented with 500mg of curcumin three times daily, while the other group were given a placebo. At the end of the nine-month study, 16 per cent of the placebo group had developed type-2 diabetes compared to none in curcumin group. Researchers noted that the pancreatic beta cells of the patients taking curcumin improved the way they released insulin; typically in diabetes pancreatic beta cells lose their ability to release insulin properly.

Reduces Cholesterol And Triglyceride Levels

High cholesterol and triglycerides are a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease however a number of studies have shown that supplementation with curcumin may help to reduce both serum cholesterol and triglycerides. In one small study involving healthy volunteers, curcumin was found to increase HDL cholesterol (the good type of cholesterol) by 29 per cent and decrease total serum cholesterol by 12 per cent. These positive effects are thought to occur via the antioxidant action of curcumin. It may also be influenced by curcumin’s protective action on the liver where it has been shown to prevent fat accumulating in liver cells which would otherwise contribute to fatty liver disease.

Reduces Inflammatory Bowel Disease Pain

Over the last few years, more and more studies have highlighted the efficacy of curcumin for management of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) conditions such as Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC).

In one study, patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) were administered curcumin over an eight-week treatment period. A decrease in IBS prevalence, abdominal pain and discomfort was noted at the end of the eight weeks. Patients also noted an improvement in quality of life.

Curcumin also appears to work well when co-administered with conventional drugs for IBD. In one study, researchers observed significant improvements in UC patients taking curcumin in combination with corticosteroids and mesalazine, to such an extent they reduced (or ceased in one case) their conventional treatments. (Please ensure you seek medical advice before changing or adding any medications or supplements to your daily routine)

Beneficial results were also observed in the Crohn’s group with participants reporting a reduction in pain and cramping. Additionally blood test results showed reductions in inflammation markers, specifically, C-reactive protein (CRP) and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). Supplementing with curcumin has also been shown to be helpful when individuals are in remission to prevent relapse.

Reduces Osteoarthritis (OA) Pain

In a small, double blind placebo controlled study undertaken at Deakin University in Australia, supplementation with 1200mg of curcumin over a two-week period was found to relieve pain associated with OA of the carpal metacarpal joint of the thumb. Following supplementation with curcumin, participants demonstrated 50 per cent less pain associated with griping – amazingly within two hours of supplementation – and approximately 25 per cent improvement in grip strength.

Reduces Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain

In one small trial, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients were given either 1200mg daily of curcumin or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID – in this trial phenylbutazone), for 14 days. Patients receiving curcumin showed improvements in morning stiffness and joint swelling, as did patients receiving the NSAIDS, however, since NSAIDs can be associated with a range of unpleasant side effects, the option of taking curcumin may be preferable. More recently a small pilot undertaken in patients with active RA showed that taking 500mg curcumin alone was more effective than taking conventional medication. Patients taking the curcumin showed the highest percentage of improvement and reported a reduction in tenderness and joint swelling.

Note: Curcumin has an excellent safety profile however caution should be exercised in people with bile duct obstruction diseases and gall stones.

Adapted from Go Magazine May 2013