Curcumin is thought to be the primary pharmacological agent in turmeric. In numerous studies, curcumin's anti-inflammatory effects have been shown to be comparable to the potent drugs hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone as well as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory agents such as Motrin. Unlike the drugs, which are associated with significant toxic effects (ulcer formation, decreased white blood cell count, intestinal bleeding), curcumin produces no toxicity.
Turmeric may provide an inexpensive, well-tolerated, and effective treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis. While the researchers are not yet sure exactly how Turmeric achieves its protective effects, they think its benefits are the result of not only antioxidant activity, but also inhibition of a major cellular inflammatory agent called NF kappa-B.
Clinical studies have substantiated that turmeric also exerts very powerful antioxidant effects. As an antioxidant, turmeric is able to neutralize free radicals, chemicals that can travel through the body and cause great amounts of damage to healthy cells and cell membranes. This is important in many diseases, such as arthritis, where free radicals are responsible for the painful joint inflammation and eventual damage to the joints.
Turmeric's antioxidant actions enable it to protect the colon cells from free radicals that can damage cellular DNA, a significant benefit particularly in the colon where cell turnover is quite rapid, occuring approximately every three days. Because of their frequent replication, mutations in the DNA of colon cells can result in the formation of cancerous cells much more quickly. Turmeric also helps the body to destroy mutated cancer cells, so they cannot spread through the body and cause more harm. A primary way in which turmeric does so is by enhancing liver function. Additionally, other suggested mechanisms by which it may protect against cancer development include inhibiting the synthesis of a protein thought to be instrumental in tumor formation and preventing the development of additional blood supply necessary for cancer cell growth.
Epidemiological studies have linked the frequent use of turmeric to lower rates of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer; laboratory experiments have shown curcumin in turmeric can prevent tumors from forming; and research conducted at the University of Texas suggests that even when breast cancer is already present, curcumin can help slow the spread of breast cancer cells to the lungs in mice.
Research presented at a recent conference on childhood leukemia, held in London, provides evidence that eating foods spiced with turmeric could reduce the risk of developing childhood leukemia. The incidence of this cancer has risen dramatically during the 20th century, mainly in children under age five, among whom the risk has increased by more than 50% cent since 1950 alone.
Studies have shown that the curcumin can:
In a recent rat study conducted to evaluate the effects of turmeric on the liver's ability to detoxify xenobiotic (toxic) chemicals, levels of two very important liver detoxification enzymes (UDP glucuronyl transferase and glutathione-S-transferase) were significantly elevated in rats fed turmeric as compared to controls. The researchers commented, "The results suggest that turmeric may increase detoxification systems in addition to its anti-oxidant properties.Turmeric used widely as a spice would probably mitigate the effects of several dietary carcinogens."
Curcumin may be able to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the body. Since oxidized cholesterol is what damages blood vessels and builds up in the plaques that can lead to heart attack or stroke, preventing the oxidation of new cholesterol may help to reduce the progression of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease
Growing evidence suggests that turmeric may afford protection against neurodegenerative diseases. Epidemiological studies show that in elderly Indian populations, among whose diet turmeric is a common spice, levels of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's are very low. Concurrently, experimental research conducted recently found that turmeric does appear to slow the progression of Alzheimer's in mice.
A number of studies have suggested that turmeric protects against Alzheimer's disease by turning on a gene that codes for the production of antioxidant proteins.