Curcumin – A Critical Phytonutrient for Reducing Inflammation and Improving Brain Function

It is known that the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in India is significantly lower than in the United States. Researchers have postulated that the reason for this lower incidence is the presence of turmeric, a spice widely used in Indian cuisine. Curcumin, the yellow pigment present in turmeric (Curcuma longa), is thought to be the critical phytonutrient.  


Medicinal uses of curcumin

Curcumin has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries and has been found to have many health-enhancing properties, which include reducing inflammation, inhibiting blood vessel growth (especially in cancers), and antioxidant effects. Curcumin produces anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting the inflammatory pathways COX-2, TNF-alpha, and NF-kB activity. (These pathways are also the target of many common drugs like ibuprofen as well as a range of prescription medications used in asthma, arthritis, and autoimmune disease.) Curcumin has been used for many years in Ayurvedic medicine in the treatment of joint and gastrointestinal problems and shows promise in reducing reoccurrence of ulcerative colitis. In my practice I have seen beneficial results using curcumin as an anti-inflammatory for joint and muscle pain as well as for general immune system effects.  


Can curcumin prevent cancer?

There has been a tremendous amount of research done on curcumin, much of it reported in Indian medical journals. It is one of the safest botanicals and can be used both in food as yellow curry spice and as a supplement. Curcumin has shown antitumor activity against leukemias, lymphomas, multiple myeloma, brain cancer, melanoma, and skin, lung, prostate, breast, ovarian, liver, gastro-intestinal, pancreatic, and colorectal epithelial cancers. Curcumin inhibits the growth of cancer cells and induces cell death (apoptosis), including cancer stem cells and their progenies. 


Connections between curcumin and brain function

Curcumin is particularly protective of the brain and neurological system, where its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are very important. It has an effect on amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease, with studies showing protection against the toxicity induced by amyloid plaques. As mentioned above, population studies have shown a significantly lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in India. 


Broad-based benefits of curcumin

Curcumin is a powerful epigenetic nutrient, inhibiting histone deacetylase (HDAC) in cancer models, leading to increased apoptosis in cancer cells. Fu and Kurzrock (2010) found that curcumin also inhibits DNA methyltransferase. Curcumin is a potent hypomethylating (gene-activating) agent, which reflects its broad-based impact on inflammation, cancer, diabetes, and other diseases. In addition, curcumin has been shown to decrease differentiation of pre-adipocytes into fat cells, justifying its folk name, “killer of fat,” providing another tool in the fight against obesity. 

There have been thousands of studies investigating the role of curcumin in health, though its use in the United States has been slow to be embraced. The effects of curcumin are many, making it one of the most important bioactive foods in the nutritional arsenal in maintaining high-level wellness and adaptation. 

Following is a summary of key curcumin studies: 

  • Curcumin reduces amyloid plaques in the brain in animal models, improving cognitive function.

  • Curcumin can improve mood, as a natural monoamine oxidase inhibitor, increasing dopamine and serotonin. 

  • Curcumin improves neurogenesis (the growth of new nerves) in the hippocampus and frontal cortex, reversing stress-related behavior in animal studies. 

  • It is anti-inflammatory, inhibiting multiple inflammation pathways, including TNF-alpha and interleukins, and modulating T-cell and B-cell activity. 

  • Curcumin reduces arthritis symptoms, acting as an anti-inflammatory.

  • It has beneficial effects on the kidneys, liver, and heart.

  • Curcumin has anticancer effects through epigenetics mechanisms. 


Next-steps: How to incorporate curcumin into your diet

Employing turmeric in the diet as a spice will raise the curcumin level in the body; however, unless turmeric has been used over a long period (such as in traditional Indian diets), it might be wise to use a supplement of curcumin to achieve therapeutic benefits. Absorption of curcumin from supplements can be difficult; therefore, the forms 
that I have found most useful are complexed with phytosomes or bioperene, an extract from black pepper. Therapeutic doses range from 500 to 1,000 milligrams several times a day. Using curcumin in a therapeutic mode should be under the supervision of a health care provider. 

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of adding curcumin to your diet (or The Adaptation Diet in general), please call us (858-775-5307) and set up an appointment. Whether you’re interested in living a healthier lifestyle or you’re trying to overcome a chronic condition, we can help you get to your goals.