Living up to its reputation as “The Golden Spice,” turmeric shines in new studies on liver function, memory, cholesterol, and sperm quality.
Turmeric is the shining star of today’s botanical market. Mounting research is not only validating turmeric’s traditional health benefits but also revealing new, previously unexplored potential therapeutic uses of this curry staple. Given turmeric’s powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, it’s not difficult to see why the herb’s popularity is increasing annually. According to the HerbalGram Herb Market Report for 20171, which was published in 2018, turmeric held the top spot as the number-one bestselling herbal supplement in the natural channel, with over $50 million in 2017 sales, while it held the 5th spot in mainstream channel sales, with over $32 million in sales-a figure which was 47% higher than in 2016.
Positive study outcomes for “The Golden Spice” are leading to higher levels of acceptance of the well-renowned traditional benefits of the herb-to the point where associations seen in several initial epidemiological studies years ago are translating to tangible health benefits in intervention-based human clinical trials. A big reason for this seems to be that the current extracts of turmeric, which are based on curcumin, possess higher bioavailability than the pure spice itself. This has led to higher blood levels of the active curcuminoids, resulting in positive outcomes in several health conditions.
As turmeric’s notable bioavailability challenges are increasingly overcome through further technological advancements, it’s reasonable to expect that scientists will discover additional uses for the golden spice in the years ahead, fueling added consumer interest as well as sales of this beneficial spice.
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One of turmeric’s traditional uses is supporting liver health. A recent double-blind, placebo-controlled trial2 led by Naveen Krishnareddy of Life Care Hospital in Bangalore, India, investigated the effect of curcumin supplementation on liver function in chronic alcoholics.
A novel curcumin complex with galactomannoside providing enhanced delivery and improved bioavailability of free curcuminoids was used in the study. The ingredient is the CurQfen branded ingredient, 39.1% curcuminoids, from supplier Akay Flavours & Aromatics Pvt. Ltd. (Cochin, India). Healthy male subjects between the ages of 30 to 50 consuming six servings or more of alcohol per week (fitting the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) criteria for chronic alcoholism) were asked to supplement with 500 mg of CurQfen or placebo daily for eight weeks. All individuals had elevated liver enzymes, including serum transaminases and gamma-glutamyl transferase.
Liver function markers in the placebo group increased by around 9.5% after eight weeks. The curcumin-supplemented group saw significant improvements, including serum transaminases reduced by 31% from baseline and gamma-glutamyl transferase reduced by 29% from baseline. Furthermore, measures of endogenous antioxidant activity increased, while measures of inflammation significantly decreased in those taking the curcumin complex. The study results show that curcumin may significantly improve liver health and function in chronic alcoholics.
2. T Krishnareddy N et al. “A novel curcumin-galactomannoside complex delivery system improves hepatic function markers in chronic alcoholics: a double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled study.” BioMed Research International. Published online September 23, 2018.
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Memory and Attention in Aging Adults
Recently, scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA), investigated the effects of curcumin supplementation on memory and attention in adults without dementia.
In the double-blind placebo-controlled study3 conducted by Gary Small and colleagues, 40 adults aged 51 to 84 were divided into groups taking a bioavailable form of curcumin-as Theracurmin from Theravalues (Tokyo, Japan) containing 90 mg of curcumin twice daily-or placebo for eighteen months. In addition to assessing verbal and visual memory and attention, brain amyloid and tau protein accumulation were also assessed. These were assessed because hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease include beta-amyloid protein accumulating in senile plaques and tau protein accumulating in neurofibrillary tangles. These begin accumulating decades before dementia symptoms are apparent.
In the study, curcumin supplementation led to significant improvements in verbal and visual memory as well as attention compared to placebo treatment. Furthermore, PET scan imaging data found that amyloid and tau accumulation was significantly decreased in the amygdala in the curcumin group compared to placebo. In the hypothalamus, protein accumulation was unchanged with curcumin supplementation but increased with placebo, indicating that curcumin may decrease amyloid and tau protein accumulation in brain areas associated with mood and memory.
3. Small GW et al. “Memory and brain amyloid and tau effects of a bioavailable form of curcumin in non-demented adults: a double-blind, placebo-controlled 18-month trial.” The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, vol. 26, no. 3 (March 2018): 266-277
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Cholesterol and Blood Lipid Support
Researchers from the University of Newcastle (Callaghan, Australia) led by Jessica Ferguson aimed to evaluate the effect of curcumin supplementation as a potentiator of the benefits of phytosterols for controlling high cholesterol levels.
In the double-blind, placebo-controlled trial4, for four weeks, 70 participants with average total cholesterol levels of 6.57 mmol/L received either 1) placebo, 2) phytosterols (2 g/day), 3) curcumin (200 mg/day, derived from Meriva, a curcumin phospholipid from Indena in Milan, Italy), or 4) phytosterols (2 g/day) plus curcumin (200 mg/day).
At the end of the study, significant decreases from baseline values were seen in both the phytosterol group and the combination phytosterol + curcumin group in the following measures: total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and the total cholesterol:HDL cholesterol ratio. In the phytosterol group, reductions in total cholesterol averaged 4.8% and in LDL cholesterol were 8.1%. In the combination group, adding curcumin to phytosterols resulted in a total cholesterol reduction of 11% on average, while LDL cholesterol decreased by 14.4% with the combination.
These reductions were significantly greater than with placebo or with curcumin alone. The results indicate that the addition of curcumin in a phospholipid form can potentiate the cholesterol-lowering effects of phytosterols.
4. Ferguson JJA et al. “Curcumin potentiates cholesterol-lowering effects of phytosterols in hypercholesterolaemic individuals. A randomised controlled trial.” Metabolism, vol. 82 (May 2018): 22-35
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Enhanced Sperm Quality
Infertility is a common issue, with 25% of couples seeking medical help with infertility at some point during their relationship. Male infertility accounts for the issue in at least 50% of cases. Sperm are highly susceptible to reactive oxygen species and the effects of free radicals. Given curcumin’s strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential, researchers led by Fatemeh Alizadeh from Qazvin University of Medical Science (Qazvin, Iran) decided to study the impact of curcumin supplementation in men with infertility.
In the double-blind, placebo-controlled study5, 60 infertile men were randomized to supplement with 80 mg of curcumin in a novel nanomicellar formulation daily or a placebo for 10 weeks. Semen analysis and measures of antioxidant function as well as inflammatory measures were assessed at baseline and the end of the study.
Curcumin supplementation led to a statistically significant improvement in total sperm count, sperm concentration, and sperm motility compared to placebo. Curcumin also led to statistically significant improvements versus placebo in total antioxidant capacity and malondialdehyde (measures of antioxidant function), as well as reductions in C-reactive protein and tumor necrosis factor (measures of inflammation). Given the results of this study, supplementation with curcumin may be an effective treatment option for improving sperm quality in infertile men.
5. Alizadeh F et al. “Curcumin nanomicelle improves semen parameters, oxidative stress, inflammatory biomarkers, and reproductive hormones in infertile men: A randomized clinical trial.” Phytotherapy Research, vol. 32, no. 3 (March 2018): 514-521
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