Life Extension Magazine

Life Extension Magazine February 2004

Curcumin Update

By Dale Kiefer

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New Research on the Multiple Benefits of this Potent Health-Promoting, Disease-Fighting Agent

Heart Health Benefits
Some of the most intriguing new research on curcumin’s potential benefits involves its apparent ability to improve cardiovascular health. As with many of curcumin’s protective actions, this ability to improve circulatory system function may be due to its powerful antioxidant activity. Late last year, several reports detailed curcumin’s ability to protect test animals against a variety of conditions that model heart disease in humans.

Researchers in Egypt noted that curcumin protected rats from oxidative stress injury following experimentally induced stroke.46 Stroke is a common result of thrombosis and/or atherosclerosis, which leads to clogging of the arteries that supply the brain with vital oxygen and nutrients. It is believed that such injury, known as ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) insult, is responsible for many of the deficits seen in stroke victims. Researchers concluded that curcumin protected the rats from I/R damage. They noted that when curcumin was administered at the highest levels, injury-related oxidants, believed to be responsible for the majority of I/R damage, were significantly reduced.46

Among the Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) whose levels or activities were reduced by curcumin were xanthine oxidase, superoxide anion, malondialdehyde, glutathionine peroxidase, superoxide dismutase, and lactate dehydrogenase. As most readers of Life Extension already know, scientists attribute many of the undesirable effects of aging to the rogue activities of damaging free radicals, and antioxidants are crucial for their control. As noted previously, curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and many of its beneficial effects may be directly related to its ability to scavenge and neutralize these ROS.

Positive Effects on Cholesterol
In laboratory tests on animals and in vitro, scientists have shown that curcumin prevents lipid peroxidation and the oxidation of cellular and subcellular membranes that are associated with atherosclerosis.27,28,30,31,47 Moreover, curcumin acts to lower total cholesterol levels. Perhaps even more important, it prevents peroxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. LDL peroxidation plays a key role in the development of atherosclerosis, so it follows that a substance that inhibits peroxidation should benefit cardiovascular health.

Atherosclerosis is a common disorder associated with aging, diabetes, obesity, and a diet high in saturated fat. It begins gradually, as cholesterol and other lipids deposit on arterial walls and form damaging plaques. Oxidized lipids are suspected of playing a particularly damaging role in the progression of atherosclerosis. As plaques grow, vessel walls may eventually thicken and stiffen, restricting blood flow to target organs and tissues. Atherosclerosis is a major cause of heart disease and may also lead to stroke. When atherosclerotic plaques restrict blood flow to the heart, depriving cardiac muscle of vital oxygen and nutrients, coronary tissue dies. Angina and heart attack are the result. Since curcumin is a naturally occurring, well-tolerated antioxidant that is capable of destroying the dangerous free radicals that lead to lipid peroxidation, it would appear that it holds enormous potential in the fight against heart disease.

Still more intriguing than its ability to limit peroxidation is the finding that curcumin raises HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, even as it reduces LDL levels. In a small study of human volunteers, researchers reported a highly significant 29% increase in HDL among subjects who consumed one-half gram (500 mg) of curcumin per day for seven days. Subjects also experienced a decrease in total serum cholesterol of more than 11%, and a decrease in serum lipid peroxides of 33%.48 Further human studies are needed, but these preliminary findings are promising. As one research team noted: “Administration of a nutritional dose of C. longa extracts [curcumin]…may contribute to the prevention of effects caused by a diet high in fat and cholesterol in blood and liver during the development of atherosclerosis.”27

Although scientific investigation into the therapeutic properties of curcumin is ongoing, it seems clear that this plant pigment from a humble tuber has powerful healing potential. The data are occasionally conflicting, but it seems likely that adding curcumin to one’s diet makes exceptionally good sense. Curcumin appears to prevent certain cancers, inhibit cardiovascular disease, and quell inflammation, and may even offer protection against Alzheimer’s disease. Because it has been consumed safely by millions of people literally for millennia, the choice to supplement one’s diet regularly with curcumin would seem to be a no-brainer. One word of caution, however: curcumin is poorly absorbed by the gut. Its absorption and bioavailability are significantly enhanced by the addition of an agent such as piperine, a natural alkaloid derived from black pepper.49

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