Several studies have found that curcumin (a component of the yellow spice turmeric) can synergistically boost the health benefits of two other natural compounds. On its own, curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory. It has been shown to help reduce risk for Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, prevent the kidney damage associated with diabetes, help regulate blood sugar and even reduce exercise-induced muscle soreness. Now, researchers have found that curcumin improves the performance of some other powerful natural healers.
In one study, researchers from UCLA found that a combination of curcumin and vitamin D worked well to clear harmful amyloid plaques found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin helped immune cells, called macrophages, to bind better with the plaque, which allows these cells to engulf and “digest” the plaque. Vitamin D, in turn, activated genes that revved up macrophage activity. The combination “may offer new preventive and treatment possibilities for Alzheimer’s disease,” the researchers say.
In another study, curcumin combined with green tea extract worked better than either alone in reducing number of abnormal cells in the colons of animals exposed to a cancer-inducing agent.
Researchers say that curcumin acts like a “biochemical disciplinarian.” Molecules of curcumin insert themselves into cell membranes and make the membranes more stable and orderly. This protects the cells from damage and limits uncontrolled cell proliferation, a feature of cancer. It also helps immune cells like macrophages function better, helping the body resist infection.
You can increase your intake of curcumin by eating more curried dishes, but know this: there is only 3% to 6% curcumin in turmeric. Luckily, curcumin is also available in supplemental form, which can help people benefit from this spice using therapeutic doses.
1. Hripsime, A, et al. J Neuroimmunol, 210 (2009) 67-72.
2. Xu G, et al, Food Chem Toxicol, 2009 Oct 24; Epub ahead of print.