Friday, May 03, 2013 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Turmeric root is one of the most important spices and traditional medicines across vast sections of Asia, and has been for hundreds of years. Scientists attribute many of turmeric’s health benefits to the trio of naturally occurring chemicals known as curcuminoids, which give the root its characteristic yellow-orange color. The name curcumin, which technically refers to only one of the curcuminoids, is sometimes also used to refer to the entire group.
Although many studies have been performed on curcumin rather than on turmeric root itself, it is important to note that the body absorbs curcumin much more effectively from the root than from supplements.
Reviewing the data
As early as 1996, enough research had been conducted on the cancer-fighting benefits of turmeric and curcumin that scientists were able to conduct a comprehensive review of these studies in the journal Nutritional Reviews. The authors noted that studies had shown that even at low doses, turmeric inhibits the accumulation of mutations in DNA. Turmeric tablets were also found to lower the concentration of mutagenic chemicals in the urine of smokers. These tablets also reduced DNA damage and helped repair precancerous lesions. In addition, the reviewers found that turmeric inhibits tumor formation in the skin, breast, mouth and gut.
Since the publication of this review, new research has only strengthened the evidence for turmeric’s anti-cancer prowess. For example, one study conducted by researchers from Siebold University of Nagasaki, Japan, and published in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition in 2010, found that healthy people who took turmeric tablets had higher blood concentrations of the cancer-fighting chemical geranylgeranoic acid (GGA) four hours later.
Turmeric targets cancer cells
In another study, published the same year in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, researchers from the University of Michigan found that a solution of curcumin and piperine (the chemical that makes black pepper spicy) stopped the propagation of breast cancer stem cells while leaving healthy breast cells unaffected. The piperine appeared to boost the natural tumor-suppressing powers of the curcumin. Notably, even the typically hard-to-treat hormone-receptor negative tumors were suppressed by curcumin.
A 2011 study conducted by researchers from Zheijian Provincial People’s Hospital in China backed this up, finding that curcumin actually induced apoptosis (programmed cell death) in triple negative breast cancer cells – the most lethal form of breast cancer. Another 2011 study, by researchers from the University of Texas, noted that curcumin is remarkable for its effectiveness at inducing apoptosis while not just leaving non-cancerous cells alone, but actually improving their health.
The benefits of turmeric don’t stop there. Curcumin is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and therefore can help fight a number of chronic health conditions from heart disease and diabetes to dementia. In fact, studies have shown that curcumin actually suppresses the formation of the amyloid plaques linked with Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been proven useful at relieving arthritis and improving the health of the liver and gall bladder.
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