For those who appreciate the unique spiciness of turmeric, it's serendipitous to learn there are several layers of extraordinary health benefits included with the active ingredient known as curcumin. One of the latest was revealed in a study in which scientists tested the powerful compound for its effects on heart failure patients.
Heart failure, experienced by nearly 6 million people in the U.S., weakens your heart and affects its ability to pump sufficient oxygen. Patients no longer have the ability to participate in activities and exercise like they once did, which could be described as life altering.
Heart failure is also described as chronic, progressive and incurable, although a change in lifestyle, such as eating a balanced, healthy diet and performing regular exercise can decrease feelings of fatigue and enhance their mood enough to help people resume their lives to a large degree.
Research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology reports that curcumin may help patients with chronic heart failure by increasing skeletal muscle strength, endurance and exercise capacity.1 Although mice were the subjects used in the trial, the scientists are hopeful their research can eventually be translated to human patients in a clinical setting.
Turmeric is in the same botanical family as ginger, another powerful spice with proven, health-beneficial compounds. With that in mind, corresponding study author Dr. Lie Gao, assistant professor of cellular and integrative physiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), notes:
"This study showed an important proof of principle. Some foods and spices, such as broccoli and turmeric, contain a rich supply of antioxidant compounds. Consumption of these foods or spices may improve skeletal muscle health. For patients with stable heart failure that have limited ability to exercise, compounds like these may be beneficial."2
Interestingly, previous studies proposed that targeting skeletal muscle with antioxidants may be advantageous for heart failure patients, but Gao states that it's not possible to use curcumin on humans because of the high amounts it would take.
Gao then suggests that "other antioxidants" such as dimethyl fumarate, a drug currently popular for treating multiple sclerosis,3 could be used for its health-improving benefits. That said, curcumin is one of hundreds of plant-based nutriments, from carrots to tobacco, to be unapologetically sourced and manufactured into pharmaceuticals.4
Curcumin: Gingery, Earthy, Healing
Curcumin, taken from the underground rhizome of the plant, is the pigment that gives curry its bright yellow hue, explaining why turmeric is an ingredient used to complement and color stir-fries and sautéed root vegetables, rice, scrambled eggs and braised greens such as kale and collards.
In just the past few years, queries about the spice touted to have a "cult following" have increased exponentially, according to The Guardian.5 It's showing up in foods like smoothies and the trendy turmeric latte known as golden milk, a potent blend of organic turmeric powder and coconut milk and/or virgin coconut oil.
Optional flavor additions include vanilla, raw honey or stevia, a stick of ginger and/or cinnamon, and sometimes a healthy dash of black or white pepper. The addition of ghee is used to soothe a sore throat.
In fact, the use of black pepper in golden milk is supported by a study in which the "curcuminoid-piperine combination" addressed the symptoms of metabolic syndrome in 117 study subjects who exhibited both oxidative stress and inflammation. According to the randomized, controlled trial and updated meta-analysis,6 oxidative and inflammatory status showed significant improvement, even with short-term curcumin supplementation.
Tellingly, turmeric is called the "spice of life" in India. Golden milk is becoming increasingly popular not just as a pleasant, warming drink for cool autumn evenings, but as a sleep aid for people who struggle with insomnia. Further, curcumin has been identified as a substance that's safe, effective and natural.
A plethora of studies point to the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin (Curcuma longa) and reveal more than 160 separate physiological and cell-signaling pathways, positively influencing arthritic conditions, cancer, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and, more recently, metabolic syndrome and dementia.
Studies Reveal Curcumin's Powerful Potential for Your Brain
In another study from mid-2018, scientists at Texas A&M endeavored to relieve patients suffering from Gulf War illness (GWI), characterized by "substantially declined neurogenesis, chronic low-grade inflammation, increased oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction in the hippocampus."7 In the animal study, GWI rats treated with curcumin (CUR) maintained better memory and mood function. In addition:
"Enhanced neurogenesis, restrained inflammation and oxidative stress with normalized mitochondrial respiration may underlie better memory and mood function mediated by CUR treatment."8
The scientists wrote that their use of curcumin was due to its long-recognized ability to positively influence several aspects of brain health. The rats in the study were exposed to low doses of DEET, or N-diethyl-m-toluamide, a common insect repellant, and other chemicals related to GWI, such as pyridostigmine bromide and permethrin. They were also subjected to restraint for five minutes daily for a period of 28 days.
Even more recently, another study9 shows that chronic neuropathic pain and the cognitive impairment that accompanies it can be addressed with the antinociceptive (reduced sensitivity to painful stimuli10) and neuroprotective application of curcumin, demonstrated using rats in a lab setting subjected to cobra venom.
Interestingly, the rats exhibited improvements in spatial learning and memory deficits, as well as increased exploratory activities due to the ability of curcumin to reverse the damage done to hippocampal neurons and synapses. Scientists concluded that curcumin can "alleviate pain, improve spatial learning and memory deficits, and treat chronic neuropathic pain-induced cognitive deficits."