Life Extension Magazine February 2014
Bio-Enhanced TURMERIC Compounds Block Multiple Inflammatory Pathways
By Michael Downey
Millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain caused by inflammation, while millions more suffer diseases caused by chronic inflammation such as cancer and atherosclerosis.1,2
Prescription options—non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and glucocorticoids—target only part of the overall chronic inflammatory response. Worse, they have substantial side effects and are not meant for long-term use.3,4
After combing through scores of nutrients, scientists have identified three compounds: curcumin, ginger, and turmeric oil that inhibit multiple underlying factors behind inflammation—safely reducing both chronic pain and long-term disease risk.
Numerous studies have confirmed that—by targeting the inflammatory origins—these natural extracts reduce the symptoms, risk profiles, and mediating factors of arthritis,5-12 cardiovascular disease,5,13-17 cancer,18-22 and other diseases…and some of these effects are observable in a matter of weeks!9,16,18,23
Even more exciting, scientists have discovered a novel way to deliver more of these three extracts to your bloodstream—almost seven times as much!24-27 These groundbreaking discoveries enhance the ability of these compounds to block the origins of chronic inflammation.
An All-Out Assault On Chronic Inflammation
When levels of certain cellular enzymes are increased, the result is chronic inflammation created by a complex “domino effect” of signaling molecules known as prostaglandins and leukotrienes.28-30 As scientists now know, the more inflammation, particularly chronic inflammation, you have, the more rapidly your body ages.1
In fact, we know that almost all chronic diseases—from arthritis, to heart disease, to diabetes, to Alzheimer’s disease—have one thing in common: destructive, unchecked inflammation.31
Doctors have long known of individual compounds that can inhibit one of the steps involved in chronic inflammation, producing some anti-inflammatory response. For example, NSAIDs inhibit the production of prostaglandin signaling molecules by blocking enzymes known as COX-1 and COX-2. But they are not well characterized in terms of their ability to inhibit production of leukotriene signaling molecules, which requires blocking the LOX enzyme.32
Researchers sought natural compounds that could inhibit the multiple steps behind prostaglandin and leukotriene production to deliver broad-spectrum protection against chronic inflammation.
Unlike current medications, turmeric oil, ginger oil, and curcumin work through multiple mechanisms to block multiple pathways of the inflammation-signaling process.5,32-40
It makes sense that these extracts have similar anti-inflammatory effects—they belong to the same plant family, known as Zingiberaceae.41
Turmeric Root Compounds
Curcumin is packed with potent chemicals, collectively known as curcuminoids.42
Turmeric oil - the liquid produced during curcumin extraction43,44 - is rich in compounds known as aromatic turmerones.
Ginger Root Compounds
Ginger oil contains gingerols, shogaols, and sesquiterpenes, which are powerful anti-inflammatory active compounds.45
To illustrate a key element of their dramatically broader effectiveness against inflammation, these natural ingredients deliver a potent benefit that no currently available drug can—they block both COX and LOX enzymes, which in turn inhibits synthesis of both prostaglandin and leukotriene signaling molecules!32-40
This is of vital importance, because scientists have now discovered that agents that trigger dual inhibition of COX and LOX enzymes potentially provide “a better therapeutic profile” and produce almost no side effects compared to NSAIDs.32
Remarkably, when these three extracts are combined, they help prevent chronic inflammation by favorably modulating the activity of the following pathways. They:
- Inhibit COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes;33-35
- Inhibit LOX enzyme;36-38
- Inhibit inducible nitric oxide (iNOS);33,36-38
- Inhibit NF-kappaB;34,37,46
- Inhibit degradation of IkappaB-alpha;46
- Exert potent antioxidant activity —scavenging superoxide and hydroxyl radicals and reducing lipid peroxidation, early steps in the inflammation cascade,5,37 and inhibiting transcription of cell surface receptors for oxidized LDL cholesterol;47
- Inhibit stimulated increase of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2).33
How these natural ingredients work at the cellular level may seem technical, but what you need to remember is that they are not synthetic drugs that are alien to your body’s systems. Instead, they work with your body’s own processes to help bring back natural function. Before we look at the many health benefits of these extracts, let’s learn how scientists have combined all three—in a novel formulation that also delivers a further potent advantage: it naturally enhances absorption.
Curcumin has long been known to have poor bioavailability, requiring high doses to achieve desired blood levels.48-59 A new formulation solves this problem in two ways:
Instead of using standard curcumin, this formulation utilizes a curcumin extract that provides better bioavailability than ever thought possible. This “ next generation curcumin” is far more readily absorbed. Its potency is the synergy between the standard extracted curcuminoids plus the added-back, original turmeric compounds that are often removed in commercial processing. These novel, lipid-soluble active compounds called turmerones have been shown in human research to enhance curcumin absorption.27 In fact, two studies showed that it increases curcumin absorption almost 7-fold over a standard curcumin supplement.25,26
The second way this formulation boosts absorption is by including a special kind of molecule called phospholipids. They act as emulsifiers—agents that help oil molecules mix with water—and have been shown to enhance absorption of various nutrients.60 A study confirmed that phospholipids boost curcumin absorption into intestinal cells.61
Let’s now examine some of the health benefits of curcumin, ginger, and turmeric that result from their ability to block the multiple pathways of deadly chronic inflammation.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States,62 and according to the American Cancer Society,63one of every three women in the US risks developing some form of cancer over the course of their lives. For men, that number rises to one in two. And inflammation is a major trigger.64
When normal inflammation continues over time and becomes prolonged or chronic, it can cause a multitude of pathologies—including cancers.63 Your body has a natural ability to fight cancer through the activity of tumor-suppressing genes. The science of epigenetics now indicates that both curcumin and gingerol (a key compound in ginger) can—in addition to inhibiting inflammation and modulating cell signaling pathways—reawaken these tumor-suppressing genes, turning them back on to block cancer!65,66
Over two thousand published studies have evaluated the effects of curcumin on many cancers—such as those of the breast, prostate, liver, skin, colon, and lung cancer20,67—by interfering at every stage of the complex sequence of their development, progression, and spread.68 While anticancer drugs often weaken the immune system, curcumin modulates it,68,69-78 serving as an “immune-restorer.”70
In just one of many curcumin studies on animals, scientists grafted human prostate-cancer cells onto special mice that subsequently developed tumors.79 The mice were fed curcumin or placebo five days weekly for four weeks. Afterward, curcumin-fed mice were divided into three groups: one continuing to receive curcumin alone, a second receiving curcumin plus the cancer chemotherapy drug, gemcitabine, and the third receiving curcumin plus radiation treatment.79
Curcumin inhibited cancer growth and enhanced antitumor effects of the drug and radiation. And in an exciting breakthrough, researchers traced these results to a newly discovered mechanism! They found that curcumin reduces expression of a molecule called MDM2—a gene that promotes cancer development, survival, and growth. This mechanism “may be essential for its chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic effects.”79
Ginger research on animals included a study in which scientists orally fed whole ginger extract to mice with prostate cancer. Ginger inhibited tumor growth and progression by 56%, with no detectable toxicity.80 In another study, the active ginger compound 6-gingerol suppressed growth of colorectal cancer cells and tumors in mice by inhibiting synthesis of the signaling molecule leukotriene A4.81
When turmeric oil was combined with curcumin in a novel complex, it enhanced bioavailability and completely abolished tumor formation in a mouse model of inflammation-associated colon carcinogenesis.82
These studies demonstrate that the three natural ingredients effectively block multiple pathways of cancer in animals. The real challenge, however, was whether these same plant extracts would be as effective in humans.
Curcumin was given to five patients with Crohn’s disease; an inflammatory condition associated with increased colorectal cancer risk.83 In all but one patient, both disease activity scores and sedimentation rates—a measure of inflammation—improved.84
In familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), hundreds of colonic polyps form, some of which progress to colorectal cancer. Scientists gave five patients with familial adenomatous polyposis 480 milligrams of curcumin plus 20 milligrams of quercetin three times daily for an average of six months. There was an average 51% decrease in the size of the polyps, and 60% decrease in the number of polyps.85 There was no noticeable toxicity.
Curcumin combined with either soy isoflavones or placebo was given to 85 men and those with high levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) were assessed separately. High PSA reflects inflammation and potential prostate cancer risk. After six months, PSA levels were significantly suppressed in the curcumin-isoflavones group.86
Ginger extract was given to one group of healthy volunteers in dosages of 2 grams daily, while others took placebo. On day 28, a colonic biopsy was taken on all participants. There was substantial reduction in average colonic mucosal levels of the inflammation signaling molecule prostaglandin E2 in the ginger subjects. They also had decreased average levels of an intermediate compound called 5-HETE, which is a potent survival factor that certain cancers use to escape destruction.18,125
Turmeric oil in dosages of 600 milligrams, mixed with 3 grams of turmeric extract, was given daily to patients with aggressive premalignant mouth lesions (oral submucous fibrosis), in a pilot study. Subjects showed a substantial decrease in the number of damaged, premalignant cells in both the mucous-membrane mouth lining and in circulating lymphocytes.19