Benefits of Turmeric - India's Miracle Herb
Suppose there was an herb that prevented cancer and Alzheimer’s disease and was just as good or better than Advil or Tylenol for arthritis pain and inflammation, would you be interested?
In 1995, a U.S. patent on turmeric was awarded to the University of Mississippi Medical Center specifically for the "use of turmeric in wound healing." The patent granted them the exclusive right to sell and distribute turmeric.
Two years later, a complaint was filed by the Indian government, which challenged the novelty of the University's "discovery," due to the fact that turmeric has been used in India medicinally for 6,000 + years. The patent was revoked in 1997. Nice try, Mississippi! Only one state pays teachers less.
When the Polynesians first arrived in Hawaii by seafaring canoes around 400 AD, they brought with them the roots, cuttings, and seeds of Turmeric for both food and medicine. Turmeric is what makes mustard yellow and is the principal ingredient in curry powder.
Turmeric is widely prescribed in Indian medicine as a potent remedy for liver disorders, rheumatism, diabetic wounds, runny nose, cough and sinusitis. Traditional Chinese medicine uses curcumin as a treatment for diseases associated with abdominal pain, and it is used in ancient Hindu medicine as a treatment for sprains and swelling.
The antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties of curcumin derived from turmeric are undergoing intense research. While researchers had thought curcumin primarily has anti-inflammatory properties, the growing realization that cancer can result from inflammation has spurred mounting interest in the spice as an anti-cancer agent. The incidence of the top four cancers in the U.S. - colon, breast, prostate, and lung - is ten times lower in India.
According to researchers, Curcumin, found in Turmeric blocks a key biological pathway needed for development of melanoma and other cancers. Curcumin stops laboratory strains of melanoma from proliferating and pushes the cancer cells to commit suicide. It shuts down a powerful protein known to promote an abnormal inflammatory response that leads to a variety of disorders, including arthritis and cancer.
A study, published in the Oct. 2005 issue of the journal Clinical Cancer Research, reports that turmeric shuts down a protein active in the spread of breast cancer to a major target for metastasis.
Alzheimer's disease involves a chronic inflammatory response associated with both brain injury and beta-amyloid associated pathology. Spice and herbs contain phenolic substances with potent antioxidative and chemopreventive properties, and it is generally assumed that the phenol moiety is responsible for the antioxidant activity.
In particular, curcumin, a powerful antioxidant derived from the curry spice turmeric, has emerged as a strong inducer of the heat shock response. In light of this finding, curcumin supplementation has been recently considered as an alternative, nutritional approach to reduce oxidative damage and amyloid pathology associated with Alzheimer's Disease.
Curcumin reduces the action of a number of genes that promote inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, colon cancer and Alzheimer's. "It's probably no coincidence that India has the lowest incidence of Alzheimer's in the world," says Sally Frautschy, a professor of neurology at UCLA, who studies turmeric together with her husband and colleague, Greg Cole. "What I hear from the pharmaceutical industry," says Cole, "is 'What are you trying to do, ruin us?'
Extracts from turmeric, the yellow spice used extensively in curries, reduced the destruction of joints associated with arthritis to similar levels to pharmaceuticals, reports a (October 2006) animal study from the US.
The new study, published in the November issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism (Vol. 54, pp. 3452-3464), is said to be the first to document the efficacy of curcumin extracts for anti-arthritis activity in vivo, as well as demonstrating that the extracts studied are analogous with commercially available turmeric dietary supplements.
"Just as the willow bark provided relief for arthritis patients before the advent of aspirin, it would appear that the underground stem (rhizome) of a tropical plant [turmeric] may also hold promise [against] joint inflammation and destruction," wrote Janet Funk from the University of Arizona in Tucson.
The researchers compared the chemical composition of experimental extracts from turmeric powder with those of commercially available over the counter turmeric dietary supplements. Two experimental extracts were prepared – a crude extract with 34 per cent curcuminoids and containing essential oils, and an extract with 41 per cent curcuminoids and no essential oils.
Funk and her co-workers report that the majority of the over-the-counter supplements were also free of essential oils and had curcuminoids contents ranging from 1.8 to 33.7 per cent.
Female rats were used to test the efficacy of the extracts in vivo. The rats were injected with either a saline solution or an arthritis-inducing solution. The animals were then injected with one of the turmeric extracts or a control solution, and joint inflammation measured.
Initial results showed that a version of turmeric extract that was free of essential oils had the most significant impact on arthritis and most closely matched the composition of commercially available supplements.
Cartilage destruction in the tibia of the rats was reduced by 66 per cent, and thigh bone mineral density (BMD) destruction was also reduced by 57 per cent, compared to the control solution.
The researchers reported that an effective dose in rats that would be equivalent in humans to 1.5 milligrams per day of a portion of the turmeric root that makes up three per cent of dried turmeric powder.
A mechanistic study showed that the turmeric extracts appeared to work by inhibiting the protein, NF-kappaB, known to be play a key role in some inflammatory pathways.
“Given the critical role of NK-kappaB as the ‘master switch' in innate immunity, these in vivo experiments… provide proof-of-concept for the us of this botanical in other diseases triggered by inappropriate activation of NF-kappaB–regulated inflammatory pathways, including inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, and multiple sclerosis,” said the researchers.
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