Lesson 37: Curcumin

urmeric, a spice that has long been recognized for its medicinal properties, has received interest from both the medical/scientific world and from culinary enthusiasts, as it is the major source of the polyphenol curcumin. It aids in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia. It may also help in the management of exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness, thus enhancing recovery and performance in active people. In addition, a relatively low dose of the complex can provide health benefits for people that do not have diagnosed health conditions. Most of these benefits can be attributed to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Ingesting curcumin by itself does not lead to the associated health benefits due to its poor bioavailability, which appears to be primarily due to poor absorption, rapid metabolism, and rapid elimination. There are several components that can increase bioavailability. For example, piperine is the major active component of black pepper and, when combined in a complex with curcumin, has been shown to increase bioavailability by 2000%. Curcumin combined with enhancing agents provides multiple health benefits. 

Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are the two primary mechanisms that explain the majority of the effects of curcumin on the various conditions discussed in this review. Curcumin has been shown to improve systemic markers of oxidative stress. There is evidence that it can increase serum activities of antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase (SOD). A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized control data related to the efficacy of supplementation with purified curcuminoids on oxidative stress parameters—indicated a significant effect of curcuminoids supplementation on all investigated parameters of oxidative stress including plasma activities of SOD and catalase, as well as serum concentrations of glutathione peroxidase (GSH) and lipid peroxides. It is noteworthy to point out that all of the studies included in the meta-analysis utilized some sort of formulation to overcome bioavailability challenges, and four out of the six used piperine. Curcumin’s effect on free radicals is carried out by several different mechanisms. It can scavenge different forms of free radicals, such as reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (ROS and RNS, respectively); it can modulate the activity of GSH, catalase, and SOD enzymes active in the neutralization of free radicals; also, it can inhibit ROS-generating enzymes such as lipoxygenase/cyclooxygenase and xanthine hydrogenase/oxidase. In addition, curcumin is a lipophilic compound, which makes it an efficient scavenger of peroxyl radicals, therefore, like vitamin E, curcumin is also considered as a chain-breaking antioxidant.