Turmeric/Curcumin: The Magnificent Herb
Many of my new patients tell me they take turmeric supplements. It’s become a very popular herbal supplement in the last few years but turmeric has been around for a very long time. In fact, it’s been used by humans for over 4,000 years for both medicinal and culinary purposes.
Originally from India and used in Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric spread to China, the Middle East, Africa, and finally Europe sometime in the 18th century. Ancient people loved turmeric for the flavor it added to their food and appreciated it for its healing properties, and so do we today!
Are Turmeric and Curcumin The Same Thing?
No. Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric.
Although the whole herb, turmeric, is used medicinally in ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal formulas, curcumin is far more potent. Curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-tumor properties. It also is immune modulating, used in a variety of autoimmune disorders, by suppressing proinflammatory cytokines.
Curcumin has been found to be helpful in many medical conditions which involve inflammation from arthritis to cancer, diabetes, depression, anxiety, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. As a doctor, I’ve personally seen high dose curcumin in combination with fish oil stop a flare up of Ankylosing spondylitis, an autoimmune form of inflammatory arthritis that affects the spine and causes episodes of severe pain.
Should Everyone Take Curcumin Supplements?
No. You should never take them if you are someone with gallstones or gallbladder disease, or taking medications to thin the blood. Curcumin thins the blood and can cause contraction of the gallbladder. That contraction works great to improve digestion in people with healthy gallbladders but can lead to a medical emergency for people with gallbladder disease or gallstones.
In addition, people who take medication to reduce stomach acid or are diabetic should be cautious and not take curcumin unless under a doctor’s supervision. Curcumin can lower blood sugar, so when used in combination with blood sugar lowering medications or insulin, blood sugar can drop too low. Although curcumin can alleviate gastric pain and nausea, I’ve personally seen it cause some cases of stomach pain and reflux and null the effects of acid lowering medications. It’s ironic that curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammtory properties can heal the stomach but at the same time, its peppery nature can cause harm to some.
I’m a Diabetic, Should I Be Careful With Using Turmeric Too?
No. Anyone can cook and consume turmeric as a spice unless they have a specific allergy to it. Diabetics can also use turmeric in cooking but as said before, diabetics need to be careful with curcumin supplements.
New Uses for Curcumin in Women’s Medicine, Mood Disorders & Brain Health
Curcumin is thought to improve mood by increasing levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. It’s been shown to enhance the effects of some antidepressants by increasing levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Some studies are showing greater relief in symptoms of anxiety and depression when using curcumin alone or with anti-depressants. In a small trial of PMS, curcumin alone at only 100 mg/12 h was more effective than placebo at controlling moodiness in PMS!
Interestingly, I once saw a patient with Rheumatoid Arthritis, an auto-immune condition, who reported accidently taking her son’s Prozac for a week instead of her anti-inflammatory medication. She was pain free that entire week! And before you say the Prozac just made her happy enough to forget her pain, Prozac takes up to 6-8 weeks to improve mood. But there is a connection between mood and inflammatory pain. Whether you have pain or depression, controlling inflammation is crucial to your health.
Controlling inflammation is also crucial for brain health.
Curcumin has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier enhancing neurogenesis in the brain and preventing beta amyloid formations associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. I’ve personally seen the devastating effects of dementia. If a little daily curcumin can prevent its onset, it will save a lot of pain and suffering.
If you’d like to learn more about how Dr. Kimberly Brown, ND might help you, schedule an appointment here.
Try cooking with turmeric. Here is a healthy recipe perfect for Autumn and Thanksgiving. Vegan and paleo. I like to add ground chicken but you can also use turkey or black beans!
Or add a little turmeric to your matcha green tea latte, another personal favorite of mine.
Let us know if curcumin has helped you or someone you know!